The newly appointed Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has come under immediate pressure from the gay community and fellow MPs over her dual appointment as Minister for Women and Equality.
Ms Kelly, who is believed to be a member of Opus Dei, the controversial devout Catholic sect will be the voice of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community within the cabinet.
Ms Kelly’s own views on gay rights are unclear as she has failed to attend divisions on the key bills that relate to gay rights during the past two parliaments.
In a poll of LGBT readers of the gay news website, PinkNews.co.uk over the last weekend, 93% of the sample of 344 asked, agreed with the statement “Tony Blair should reconsider appointing Ruth Kelly as Minister for Women and Equality.”
Following her first full day as Minister for Women and Equality, Ms Kelly told PinkNews.co.uk: “People should be allowed to decide how they live their lives. I believe in a tolerant, diverse, multicultural society where everyone is protected from discrimination.
“I will fight discrimination, whether it be on the grounds of race, gender, disability or sexual orientation.”
Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk following the appointment of Ms Kelly, the veteran Labour MP for Crewe and Nantwich and chairman of the Transport select committee, Gwyneth Dunwoody said: “I’m glad the Prime Minister has a sense of humour when it comes to appointing a Minister for Women and Equality and I look forward to developments with great interest.” Adding: “I think that the Prime Minister has an interesting approach to the creation of a cabinet.”
Katie Hanson, a Hackney Labour councillor and chairperson of the Labour Campaign for Gay and Lesbian Rights told PinkNews.co.uk:”Obviously Ms Kelly’s voting record is a cause for concern and we will be watching carefully for any tonal change in policy.
“As we near completion of the consultation on goods and services, and put the finishing touches to the LCGLR position, we hope to continue the serious cordial relationship we have enjoyed with the likes of Alan Johnson.”
Evan Harris, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon told PinkNews.co.uk: “It doesn’t help that the cabinet sponsor for gay rights who through her religious views does not support full equality. To have someone who is a keen supporter is important as most of these issues are free votes that need Parliamentary time to succeed.
“I have no idea if the Prime Minister considered the implications for the gay community of appointing someone like Ms Kelly to this sensitive post. What I do know is that he always considers the DailyMail view of life before making a decision.”
Ben Summerskill, the Chief Executive of the gay rights group Stonewall said that Ms Kelly’s religious views were “a private matter” but stated that the group “require government ministers to deliver policies without fear or favour.”
Glenda Jackson, MP for Hampstead and Highgate defended Ms Kelly’s religious views adding: “Equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is centrally entrenched in government policy.”
Peter Tatchell, the gay rights campaigner, told PinkNews.co.uk: “Her appointment suggests the Government does not take lesbian and gay rights seriously. Tony Blair would never appoint someone to a race-equality post who had a lukewarm record of opposing racism.”
Ruth Kelly’s absences from Parliament
On 22nd June 1998, Ruth Kelly 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 sought 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.