Christian rights campaigners say there is massive support for proposals to allow anti-gay workers to avoid serving gays and lesbians.
Speaking to PinkNews.co.uk, Andrea Minichiello-Williams of the Christian Legal Centre said her group was surprised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s announcement backing “compromises” and “reasonable accommodations” in cases where Christian registrars and counsellors have refused to serve gay couples.
The EHRC has applied to offer impartial advice in four religious rights cases set to come before the European Court of Human Rights. Two involve workers who were sacked or discplined for refusing to serve gay people.
Ms Minichiello-Williams said: “It does seem to be a U-turn. We hope it is. We’ve got to wait and see if this turns out to be real.
“We hope for a respect for conscience. That’s true tolerance. In this country, we have seen a move towards intolerance and coercion.”
Ms Minichiello-Williams said she had been unable to find out exactly what ‘compromises’ the EHRC would like to see for religious workers.
But she said: “Where there are 18 registrars and two have a conscientious objection to carrying out civil partnerships, they should have their conscience respected.
“In terms of a counsellor who doesn’t want to treat two men, he simply wouldn’t be given that sort of case.
“Where there is a magistrate who believes children should have a mother and a father, he should be rostered off cases [involving gay or lesbian adoption].
“These are not difficult things to do in a world which respects conscience.”
She added that the proposals have “absolutely massive support” in Britain.
When asked whether racist workers should, for example, be permitted to avoid serving black people or mixed-race couples, she said: “Race is totally different from sexual orientation practice, homosexual practice.
“What they [Christians] find difficult is to be involved in things they find sinful.
“It’s very different, it is about behaviour, not the person.”
Announcing the move earlier this month, EHRC legal director John Wadham said that compromises could avoid lengthy and costly court cases and be similar to laws for disabled people.
He said: “The idea of making reasonable adjustments to accommodate a person’s needs has served disability discrimination law well for decades. It seems reasonable that a similar concept could be adopted to allow someone to manifest their religious beliefs.”
Gay rights groups have strongly criticised the proposals. Stonewall said it was “deeply disturbed” by the apparent U-turn, while Peter Tatchell called it “shocking” and “utterly appalling”.