PinkNews.co.uk’s Benjamin Cohen examines the problems that Ruth Kelly may face as Minister for Women and Equality.

Tony Blair’s cabinet reshuffles have hardly been his finest hours in the past. For starters there was the ill fated attempt to abandon the role of Lord Chancellor. Then last year, the bizarre decision to rename the Department for Trade and Industry (DTI) to Department for Productivity, Energy and Industry (DPEI or “dipy” in the media), then changed back days later at a total cost of £29,900. Now, the Prime Minister has taken the decision to appoint Ruth Kelly as both Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and Minister for Women and Equality.

Placing the Women and Equality unit within the new Department for Communities and Local Government does make a great deal of sense, I never saw the merit of it being part of the DTI. However, the Mr Blair does not seem to have thought through the consequences of moving the unit to a department headed by Ms Kelly who is well known member of Opus Dei, the controversial devout Catholic sect.

It is unclear what exactly Ms Kelly thinks about gay people, but the views of Opus Dei are rather unequvoical, it considers homosexuality to be a sin and a source of evil, in the spectrum of religious beliefs it is placed to the right of the Pope, who is himself hardly an advocate of gay rights.

What is clear is that Ms Kelly has not to date been a supporter of gay rights within Parliament.

On 22nd June 1998, she was absent from the Crime and Disorder Bill to reduce the age of consent, as she was on the 1st March 1999 and the 10th February when the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill saught to achieve the same goal (the first having been rejected by the Lords).

On the 24th October 2001, she was absent from the voting on the Relationships (Civil Registration) motion that was the catalyst for introducing the Civil Partnerships bill in Parliament.

On the 29th October 2001, she was absent from the third reading of the Adoption and Children Bill (Programme), to allow gay couples to adopt, as she was on further votes on the same subject on 16th May 2002, 20th May 2002 and the 4th November 2002.

On the 10th March 2003, she was absent from the vote to repeal section 28 which banned local authorities from promoting homosexuality as a valid lifestyle.

On the 12th October 2004, she was absent from the vote on the Civil Partnerships Bill, as she was on the 9th November 2004.

All in all, its hardly a glowing voting record for someone who is now our community’s voice at the cabinet table.

Thankfully, Ms Kelly will be supported in her Equality role with the experienced junior minister, Meg Munn, who has been involved with the unit for a considerable period of time. However, this is not enough to ensure that Ms Kelly vocally brings forward the Equality Bill, to equalise the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community in the provision of goods and services.

If Ms Kelly is to remain as the Minister for Women and Equality, she must come forward to explain this unusual leave of absence throughout the progress of these important votes that allowed the government of which she is a senior member to justly claim to be a friend of the LGBT community.

We at PinkNews.co.uk therefore welcome any statement from Ms Kelly in which she will both set out the reasons for these absences and for her to clarify her own position both on the role of women in society and the rights of LGBT people. If she does not, we must conclude that Tony Blair has bungled yet another reshuffle and failed the LGBT community.