Religious groups are to be forced to accept gay youth workers, secretaries and other staff under new anti-discrimination laws.

Church leaders had hoped to be able to push for exemptions from the new laws but deputy equalities minister Maria Eagle has said the laws will cover almost all church employees.

Previously, any roles necessary “for the purposes of an organised religion” are exempt for gay protection laws.

But the Equality Bill will define this as applying only to those who lead the liturgy or spend the majority of the time teaching doctrine, such as ministers, bishops and their equivalents.

Speaking at the Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia, & Human Rights conference in London, Eagle said: “The circumstances in which religious institutions can practice anything less than full equality are few and far between.

“While the state would not intervene in narrowly ritual or doctrinal matters within faith groups, these communities cannot claim that everything they run is outside the scope of anti-discrimination law.

“Members of faith groups have a role in making the argument in their own communities for greater LGBT acceptance, but in the meantime the state has a duty to protect people from unfair treatment.”

Mike Judge of the Christian Institute said: “The Government’s own explanation of the Bill clearly says churches must accept homosexuals as church youth workers.

“The Bill says nothing about the difference between an active homosexual and someone who has left the lifestyle but still experiences some same-sex attraction. This distinction is crucial for Christians.”

A Government Equalities Office spokesman said: “The Equality Bill will not force a church to accept someone as a priest regardless of their sexual orientation or gender.

“Churches, synagogues, mosques and others will continue to have the freedom to choose who they employ in jobs which promote their religion. But where they provide services to the public they will have to treat everyone fairly.”