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Law sought to protect consciences

01 February 2013

CONSCIENTIOUS beliefs about the definition of marriage should be a "protected characteristic" under the Equality Act, an MP said this week.

Edward Leigh, the Conservative member for Gainsborough, secured Commons support, through the ten-minute-rule procedure, to bring in a Bill to give beliefs about marriage the same legal protection as age, disability, and race.

Moving his Bill, Mr Leigh recalled the case of Adrian Smith, who won a High Court case against his employers, the Trafford Housing Trust, after he was demoted for putting a post on Facebook that described same-sex marriage as "an equality too far" ( News, 23 November).

"His case cost him, and the charity that supported him, £30,000. He got £98-worth of damages," Mr Leigh said. "If the Government succeeds in redefining marriage, the problem will get much worse.

"No one can force an atheist teacher to teach religion. . . During World War Two, when we were in a life-and-death situation, we allowed the existence of conscientious objections. But in 21st-century Britain, woe betide anyone who refuses to declare full support for same-sex marriage in their workplace or classroom."

His Bill was opposed by Steve Doughty (Labour, Cardiff South and Penarth), who said Mr Leigh was using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. "The Equality Act already provides safeguards . . . and does not need further clarification."

Mr Leigh's Bill was approved by 86 votes to 31; and is due to receive its Second Reading on 1 March.


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