The Government tonight lost three votes in the House of Lords over legislation that would have restricted the ability of churches to deny jobs to LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgenered) people.

The Government always insisted that the Equality Bill would maintain the status-quo rather than extend rights particularly strongly. Currently, churches may discriminate when hiring gay people.

Provisions in the Equality Bill, would have required churches only to discriminate in terms of sexual orientation when hiring those who will teach doctrine or lead worship.

The changes would have meant that staff such as youth workers, janitors and administrative workers cannot be refused employment due to their sexuality.

In one vote 216 peers voted to strike down a section of the Bill relating to gay employment to 178 in favour of the bill, giving the opposition a majority of 38. Two slightly different Government amendments were voted down with majorities of 21 and seven against the Government.

The Archbishop of York, the Most Reverend John Sentamu, told the House of Lords: “You may feel that many churches and other religious organisations are wrong on matters of sexual ethics.

“But, if religious freedom means anything it must mean that those are matters for the churches and other religious organisations to determine for themselves in accordance with their own convictions.”

He added: “Where are the examples of actual abuses that have caused difficulties? Where are the court rulings that have shown that the law is defective? If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”