Gay charity Stonewall has called on the community to get behind the Sexual Orientation Regulations, amid mounting opposition from the Christian Right.
Speaking to a forum of LGBT groups at City Hall in London last night, Stonewalls Public and Parliamentary Affairs spokesman Alan Wardle warned that gay originations must stop religious groups mobilising against the laws.
He urged people to write to their local MPs and register their support for the legislation which will be introduced in January 2007 in Northern Ireland, and in the rest of the UK from April 2007.
Mr Wardle said: “The Christian Right are mobilising big time, they are really flexing their muscles over this.
“We should be doing the same to show that this discrimination must end.”
The new gay equality laws aim to prevent discriminations against the LGBT community in the provision of goods and services.
Christian groups have spoken out against the laws, particularly in Northern Ireland where some feel the legislation has been rushed through.
The Christian Institute, along with other religious groups, has challenged Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain to withdraw the new gay equality laws.
The Institute is launching a judicial review because it believes the law inferences on religious freedom.
Colin Hart, Director of the Christian Institute, said: “The Regulations bear all the hallmarks of a rushed time-scale. They almost appear to establish a right for homosexuals not to be disagreed with. They would cover a conversation in a Christian bookshop or a pastoral conversation with a church minister.
“The homosexual harassment provision is so broadly drafted that it nullifies what partial exemptions churches are given. A minister can say to a practising homosexual (as he would an adulterer), ‘I’m sorry, you can’t be a member of my church until you repent and turn to Christ,’ but his explanation could be the subject of a harassment claim if the individual is offended. A teacher who says that sex is only for marriage could be accused of harassment by a pupil sympathetic to gay rights – and this would also apply to denominational schools.”
It follows opposition from within the Democratic Unionist Party to the law, although a Northern Ireland Assembly vote on the issue was tied earlier this week.
The law is also reported to have caused a rift in the UK Cabinet. As the Northern Ireland Assembly is suspended, decisions about the province are taken by the Secretary of State, Mr Hain. He has imposed tough rules, with no exemptions for religious groups.
Meanwhile, the introduction of regulations has been delayed in England and Wales until April by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, some believe she intends to grant exemptions.
Stonewall led the campaign for the legislation. The charity, along with other groups such as the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement, has previously expressed opposition to providing exemptions for religious groups.