Tuesday, January 09, 2007

England has religious fundamentalists too

LONDON (Reuters) - Sweeping gay rights laws were upheld on Tuesday despite protests by faith groups.

A bid to block the rules in Northern Ireland, where they are already in place, failed in the House of Lords, by a majority of three to one, the BBC reported.

Faith groups, which say the legislation will force them to act against their religious beliefs, earlier delivered a petition to the Queen, while about 1,000 demonstrators staged a torch-lit protest outside parliament.

"Most of the people here are standing for freedom of conscience in the sense of 'if you believe something is wrong the law shouldn't make you do it,'" one protester, who asked to not to be named, told Reuters.

[We should go back to the good old days when an authority decided for us what was right or wrong and passed laws accordingly. This whole "not agreeing with what you say but defending your right to say it" crap is just so taxing.]

The legislation, a cornerstone of efforts to promote equal rights, would ban discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the basis of sexuality in a similar way to laws banning sex and race discrimination.

Christian opponents argue the laws are a major threat to their freedom of conscience and that they should not be penalised for acting according to their beliefs.

Gay rights campaigners say the proposals would simply extend existing anti-discrimination laws to homosexuals.

"It would not be acceptable in the areas of race, disability, age or religion or belief, and is not acceptable here. Either we hold human rights to be universal or we do not," said Andrew Copson, of the British Humanist Association.

Thomas Cordrey of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, which organised the rally, said the regulations did not strike the right balance and denied the group was homophobic.

"Christians have no desire to discriminate unjustly on the grounds of sexual orientation, but they cannot and must not be forced to actively condone and promote sexual practices which the Bible teaches are wrong."

[Psst. People have a right to sin. It's not illegal to be immoral. I know, the good old days of burning heretics at the stake was good times and all, but selectively choosing which portions of Leviticus isn't really en vogue anymore. Or should we petition against the abominations of eating shellfish or wearing clothing of two different threads? I'm sure those demonstrations are just around the corner.]

The Sexual Orientation Regulations came into force in Northern Ireland on January 1 but the government postponed their introduction in England and Wales until April because there was so much opposition.

Under the new laws, hotels could be prosecuted for refusing rooms to gay couples and parishes obliged to rent out halls for gay wedding receptions. Equally, gay bars would not be able to ban straight couples.

Human rights experts say the legislation would bring British law closer to that of other nations.

"It would be a major setback for the government if it failed to bring in these regulations," Robert Wintemute, professor of human rights at King's College, London told Reuters.

Civil partnerships for gay couples were introduced in December 2005, giving them the same rights as heterosexuals.

Memo to fundies: your rights end where my rights begin.

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