The government will introduce a new Equality Bill in the coming session of Parliament, the Queen has confirmed.
In a speech from the Throne in the House of Lords Her Majesty set out the legislative programme for next year, a total of 13 Bills.
The Equality Bill includes proposals for all public bodies to promote equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans people in addition to their current duty to consider how their spending decisions, employment practices and service delivery affect people whatever their race, disability or gender.
The legislation, which covers England, Scotland and Wales, is expected to come before MPs in March or April, though there are still some fundamental issues to be clarified.
Ministers confirmed today that the duty to promote equality will include gender identity alongside sexual orientation.
It is unclear if organisations that provide services such as shelters for the homeless or faith schools will be counted as a “public body.”
Some of the fundamentalist Christian groups who have previously opposed equal rights for gay people have made representations to the government on the issue.
The Conservative party has broadly welcomed the legislation, which will streamline the nine current statutes on discrimination into one clear instruction.
Theresa May, Shadow Secretary of State for Equalities, told PinkNews.co.uk in October:
“Our approach on the Equality Bill is to say that we think it is right to bring all the legislation together to streamline it.
“There are some areas where we are waiting to see quite a bit of detail from the government on some tricky areas like age discrimination.
“One of the issues was religious and faith issues. There is a challenge for legislators around this conflict.
“I think one of the big challenges in this area is when you get two different aspects of anti-discrimination legislation which appear to be in conflict.”
Today ministers insisted that there will be no “hierarchy of discrimination” and all groups would be protected equally, but that the duty to promote equality would not extend to the private sector.
The government does award £175 billion in contracts to the private sector, and those contractors will be required to demonstrate their commitment to the public duty to promote equality.
The Bill is also meant to “engineer change” in service delivery by public bodies, but they will be expected to introduce their own monitoring procedures.
Public bodies will be required to disclose the numbers of LGBT, ethnic minority and disabled staff they have.
Stonewall, the gay equality organisation, has been lobbying for the duty to promote equality to be extended to include LGBT people.
“We are delighted that after so many years of pushing, the duty to promote will be in the Bill,” said chief executive Ben Summerskill.
“The bill is likely to be introduced in the next four or five months. We will continue working very hard on the detail where, as usual, the devil resides.”