A government spokeswoman has defended the decision to appoint a man who is opposed to gay rights as an Equality and Human Rights Commissioner.

Joel Edwards was appointed in November by Harriet Harman, Secretary of State for Equalities.

The general director of the Evangelical Alliance, he has spoken of the “huge challenge for Christians” living in a liberal democracy.

A Government Equalities Office spokeswoman told PinkNews.co.uk:

“EHRC commissioners have wide ranging and often contrasting views.

“Diversity is one of the Commission’s strengths and means that all areas of society are represented, ensuring robust debate where they have opposing views on matters.

“As well as Joel Edwards, who is a senior figure in the faith and black communities, other EHRC Commissioners include Ben Summerskill, head of Stonewall, and Kay Carberry, assistant general secretary of the TUC.”

The Evangelical Alliance has consistently opposed gay rights in the UK.

It gave evidence to a House of Commons committee opposing a new crime of incitement to violence on the grounds of sexual orientation and launched large-scale campaigns against the Sexual Orientation Regulations, which ensure equality for gay, lesbian and bisexual people when accessing goods and services.

The TUC conference earlier this month unanimously condemned Mr Edwards’ appointment and demanded he be removed.

Ms Harman was questioned about her decision to appoint him at a fringe meeting at the Labour conference this week.

Treasury minister Angela Eagle, the only out lesbian in Parliament, questioned Mr Edwards’ suitability for the role and called on Ms Harman to “have a look” at the TUC motion and his conduct and “consider what should happen.”

“I think it is important that those who become commissioners actually believe that it is not right to balance bigotry with our human rights. They should believe in the human rights of everybody,” she said.

“I know there has been a great deal of anger and hurt in the gay community because of his appointment and his behaviour, saying that somehow LGBT people can have their rights to equal access to goods and services balanced against an Evangelical view of exceptionalism.

“We do not want to get into a position where one of the important groups of people that need protection are worried about whether they can trust the work that the commission is doing.”

Ms Harman was later challenged from the floor by an activist as to why she had appointed Mr Edwards.

“The point about the EHRC is that it has got to champion human rights,” she said.

“That is what the mode, style and cuture of the commission has got to be, not just not be against people’s human rights, it’s got to be championing them.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission was established by the Equality Act 2006 and began work last October.

It brought together the three existing UK equality commissions – the Commission for Racial Equality, the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission.

The EHRC incorporates four new human rights strands – age, sexual orientation, gender identity and religion and belief.

“There seems to be an incredible inability to hear an alternative world view about human sexuality without calling it homophobia, anything which is not from the gay position is by definition homophobic, whereas in a liberal democracy that is really freedom of speech,” Mr Edwards told PinkNews.co.uk in an interview in 2006.

He is to step down from his role in the Evangelical Alliance at the end of this month.