Labour politicians and gay rights activists have responded to press reports that Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly wants to grant exemptions to the new Equality Act.
The Independent on Sunday reported that Kelly wants to give Roman Catholic adoption agencies an opt-out from the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation when accessing goods and services.
Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhonnda and an openly gay man, told PinkNews.co.uk, “I think it’s unneccessary and entirely wrong.
“There are many gay Catholics who would make excellent parents and in the end the only thing that should matter is the interests of the child and not some pathological hatred of gays.”
Mr Bryant, a former Anglican priest, said that although other churches and faith groups run adpotion agencies, “I have not heard of any other religions are asking for an exemption.”
The only openly lesbian MP in the House of Commons, Angela Eagle, told the Independent on Sunday that the Catholic opt-out would drive a “coach and horses” though the new rules.
Dr Evan Harris, who heads the Liberal Democrat campaign for gay and lesbian equality, said, “The Catholic Church have threatened to stop their adoption work and even close homeless shelters if they are not allowed to discriminate and harass citizens who are gay or lesbian.
“So the Government must call their bluff and refuse public funding or public contracts to such organisations unless they agree to non-discrimination.”
The Guardian reports that Trevor Phillips, head of the new Equality Human Rights Commission, is also opposed to any opt-outs.
Gay rights organisation Stonewall said they will continue to keep the pressure on the government to oppose any opt-outs, which they feel will merely serve to damage vulnerable children.
Chief executive Ben Summerskill told PinkNews.co.uk, “We will continue as we have been doing to lobby ministers at all levels very hard indeed. The proof of the pudding will be the regulations.”
The Department for Communities and Local Government will have to publish the text of the SOR by mid-February, in order to allow at least six weeks for them to be adopted into law in time for April 1st.
The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association warned earlier in the month that the battle over the Sexual Orientation Regulations would not end with the vote in the House of Lords that backed their introdcution by a large majority.
“The Church of England and the Catholics have both opposed these regulations and continue to do so.
“The Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Vincent Nichols, has even tried to blackmail the government into dropping the regulations by threatening to withdraw welfare services operated by Church.
“The CofE has made similar threats. It is these powerful institutions that will be exerting pressure on Ruth Kelly – but in the light of the big majority in the Lords, we hope that she will resist any further exemptions.”
Meanwhile Ms Kelly has issued a statement, calling some of the claims absurd.
“The debate around better protection on the basis of sexual orientation has been beset by wild speculation on all sides,” she said.
“There have been absurd claims, for example, that ministers of religion will be forced to bless same-sex couples.
“Equally there is no question of preferential treatment for an individual faith.”