Equality exemption ‘narrow’

20 May 2009

by Simon Sarmiento

“Hadn’t understood” the EA’s position: Trevor Phillips, speaking in London last weekend

“Hadn’t understood” the EA’s position: Trevor Phillips, speaking in London last weekend

A GOVERNMENT MINISTER has confirmed that the new definition of the “purposes of organised religion” published in the Equality Bill is intended to restore the scope of the exemption to “what it was supposed to have been in the first place”.

Speaking at a conference in London on Saturday, Maria Eagle, Under-Secretary of State in the Government Equalities Office, said that, apart from a few key issues such as whether to have women clergy, churches could not claim to be outside the scope of discrimination law.

Responding to a question about the Church’s intention to support amendments “to restore the status quo” (News, 15 May), Ms Eagle said that in recent years the existing exemptions had been “over-inter­preted”. The intention was to make clear now that this exemption was “as narrow as it possibly can be”.

Another speaker at the conference on “Faith, Homophobia, Transpho­bia and Human Rights” was Trevor Phillips, who chairs the Equality and Human Rights Com­mission. He spoke candidly about the con­troversy caused by the choice of the Revd Joel Edwards, formerly general director of the Evangelical Alliance, as a member of the commission. The TUC Annual Con­gress had unanimously called for Mr Edwards to be removed last year.

Mr Phillips said that he had failed both to “understand what the Evan­gelical Alliance represents” and “to anticipate the intense hurt” that the appointment had caused within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transexual (LGBT) community. He hoped that the commission would be judged on the basis of what it was able to deliver, and he promised that in relation to the LGBT strand there would be significant improvements soon.

Other speakers included the Regius Professor of Divinity at Ox­ford, Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, and Canon Giles Fraser. Both called for the Church of England to withdraw its claims for exemption from equal-opportunity laws. Canon Fraser saw no difference between these claims and the homophobia of the football terraces. Professor McCord Adams identified their origins in the “systemic evils” of idolatrous civic and fertility religion.

Their own public IDAHO. Services to mark the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) were held on Sunday in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin, St Fin­barre’s Cathedral, Cork, and St George’s, Belfast. These were ar­ranged by Changing Attitude Ire­land.

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