Two amendments to the Equality Bill giving the right to “conscientious objections” to gay equality measures were withdrawn in the House of Lords last night.
They were tabled by Baroness Butler-Sloss, who supported Lord Alli’s amendment to allow faiths the right to hold civil partnership ceremonies.
The amendments related to allowing employees the right not to be “complicit with an action or circumstance” which went against their beliefs on homosexuality and giving Catholic adoption agencies an exemption from the 2007 Sexual Orientation regulations.
The last Catholic adoption agency in the UK is fighting for the right to bar gay couples at the High Court this week, while the first amendment was concerned mainly with giving registrars the right not to conduct civil partnerships if they feel it is against their religious beliefs.
Baroness Butler-Sloss said last night: “All sorts of minorities need protection, not only the minorities who are in same-sex relationships. . . We should be able to accommodate various religions and various cultural beliefs. We are a broadminded society, and the Equality Bill should recognise that too.”
The amendments were supported by Lord Waddington, who referred to the recent case of Islington registrar Lillian Ladele as an “act of gross unfairness”. Ms Ladele lost her job after refusing to perform civil partnerships.
Leader of the House of Lords Baroness Royall argued that the regulations prevented discrimination.
She said: “There is nothing to prevent Catholic [adoption] agencies from treating heterosexual couples consistently with their beliefs. All that they are prevented from doing is treating people less favourably because of their sexual orientation.”
Baroness Murphy said the measures were “quite shocking” and called on the government to resist them.
She said: “I do not doubt that that is not the intention of my noble and learned friend Lady Butler-Sloss, but these amendments are deeply, offensively, homophobic.”
Withdrawing the amendments, Baroness Butler-Sloss said she was “deeply shocked” that they had been perceived as homophobic. She added that she would reflect on them and possibly bring them back at a third reading.
She said: “It is quite true that nine out of the 12 Catholic agencies in this country continue to act as adoption agencies, but they are no longer connected with the Catholic Church. The absence of discrimination against one group creates discrimination against another group. The balance is not right.”