Christian opposition to gay rights laws has escalated as protestors realise that the House of Lords debate on Wednesday will be the last chance to derail new regulations.
Members of the General Synod, or ruling body, of the Church of England have written to all bishops urging them to go to the Lords and vote against the Sexual Orientation Regulations.
The new rules, due to become law on 30th April, make it illegal to discriminate against lesbian, bisexual or gay people when providing goods and services.
The Roman Catholic church had asked that their adoption agencies be granted an exemption to the rules, but the government decided that they will have until the end of 2008 to comply.
Roman Catholic leaders are threatening to close adoption agencies rather than either stop taking public money or start considering gay couples as prospective adoptive parents.
Peers are expected to spend around an hour discussing the regulations on Wednesday evening.
In an open letter to the 26 Anglican bishops who have a seat in the House of Lords, over 40 members of the Synod are quoted by The Times as saying:
“We have in practice taken for granted that the state is not the source of morality and legitimacy but a system that brokers, mediates and attempts to co-ordinate the moral resources of those specific communities.
“This is a ‘secular’ system in the sense that it does not impose legal and civil disabilities on any one religious body; but it is not secular in the sense of giving some kind of privilege to a non-religious or anti-religious set of commitments or policies.
“Moving towards the latter would change our political culture more radically than we imagine.”
The letter also revealed that there will be protests at Westminster on Wednesday:
“Many Christians will be praying outside Parliament at the same time, giving up other activities that could rightly claim their attention.”
In January, a DUP peer attempted to rescind the Sexual Orientation Regulations for Northern Ireland, which came into force at the start of 2007.
Hundreds of Christian activists protested, many bringing children with them. The DUP motion failed in the House of Lords by 199 votes to 68.
A Tory peer has tabled an amendment designed to scupper the regulations for England, Wales and Scotland when they come to the House of Lords on Wednesday.
Baroness O’Cathain’s amendment is likely to be put to a vote in the Lords.
Tory MPs will today attempt to force a vote on the floor of the House of Commons on the regulations, though even if they succeed they are certain to lose.
On Friday a group of around 20 Conservative members disrupted the committee overseeing the introduction of the regulations, saying the government was not giving MPs enough time to consider the new rules.
Senior MPs such as Shadow Attorney General Dominic Grieve and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith lined up to complain that the government is rushing the regulations through Parliament.
Churches and other faith groups are worried that the Sexual Orientation Regulations will apply to schools, where it might be illegal to teach a gay child or a child of gay parents that homosexuality is sinful.
However, all three political parties are supportive of the regulations.
The Tory party’s spokesman on equality, Eleanor Laing, told Friday’s committee and the rebels in her own party:
“How will we achieve peace and harmony in our society if we do not say to people, “Live and let live, and respect those who are different from you?”
“I have thought about my own brand of Christianity.
“It is a simple, Church of Scotland brand based on what I believe, which is what my grandmother taught me:
“You should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
“It is a very simple outlook on life and there is no place in it for discrimination.
“No one will be required to change or relinquish their conscience or beliefs as a result of the regulations; but each of us will be required to moderate our actions and behaviour in order to accommodate those who are different from ourselves. That is a good principle on which to make legislation.”
If the Lords choose to vote on the regulations, they cannot amend them – they must either approve or reject them.
Even with the votes of the 26 bishops, it is very unlikely that the regulations will be voted down by peers.
In January one bishop, The Rt Rev Peter Selby, Bishop of Worcester, voted in favour of the Sexual Orientation Regulations, while four voted against them.
41 Tory peers and 10 voted for them. Labour and Lib Dem peers will be instructed by their parties to vote in favour.