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Labour MEP Michael Cashman has joined government condemnation of remarks made by Christian leaders regarding the new Sexual Orientation Regulations.

Former EastEnder turned politician, Mr Cashman, the head of the European Parliament’s Intergroup on Lesbian and Gay Rights, described comments by the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, and the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, as well as a controversial advert in the Times, as “totally un-Christian.”

Clergymen have threatened to stop co-operating with the government in areas of social services and adoption if they do not get exemptions in the equality laws, due in the New Year in Northern Ireland and in April 2007 for the rest of the UK.

Mr Cashman accused the leaders of blackmailing the government.

More tension was revealed on Tuesday when an advert appeared in the Times from Christian leaders accusing the government of abandoning “freedom of conscience.”

The advert claims that the legislation will “force” a bed and breakfast to supply a room to a transsexual and will make schools promote civil partnerships.

Mr Cashman told PinkNews.co.uk: “There is no place for their intolerance or their prejudice in a modern civilised society. By imposing their religious belief on others they wish to create a hierarchy of rights and diminish the human rights and civil liberties of other people.

“I find it unbelievable and totally unchristian that they want to discriminate on the grounds of someone being gay or lesbian. Any discrimination diminishes the persons who are targeted. The government must stand firm. Labour has a proud record on equality which must not be sullied by these sordid attempts at ‘blackmail'”

The laws were defended by Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott yesterday, and by equality minister Meg Munn. She told PinkNews.co.uk: “There are a number of misconceptions about what these regulations will cover and what is being considered. For example, no-one is proposing that schools will have to promote homosexuality or that a priest will have to bless same sex couples.

“But at the same time, the vast majority of the British public would surely agree that is wrong for a gay teenager to be refused emergency accommodation after being thrown out of their family home on the grounds that they had chosen to tell their parents about their sexuality or for lesbian and bisexual people to be denied access to essential healthcare.”