Another MP has withdrawn his name from a motion apparently calling for religious workers to be allowed to refuse to serve gay people.
Liberal Democrat MP for Portsmouth South Mike Hancock, who recently accused the UK Border Agency of homophobia, said he signed the early day motion by accident.
The motion, tabled by Conservative MP Gary Streeter, supports a move by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to seek ‘compromises’ and ‘accommodations’ for religious employees who claim their faith stops them from serving gay people. (see below for the wording of the motion)
Mr Hanock told the Portsmouth News: “I hadn’t looked closely enough at all the implications. I do believe, very strongly, that people’s beliefs should be taken into account when they are working, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of people of whatever religion or sexual preference living as equals in our society.
“I have removed my name from the motion. I’m not sure that was what its author intended, and it’s certainly not what I would want, so I have removed my name. I am not a homophobe, and neither am I someone who forms opinions about people because of their religious beliefs.”
Last week, Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming also withdrew his name from the motion. It is understood that the summer recess means the document has not been updated with the names of those who have withdrawn.
The EHRC has come under strong criticism for its decision to advocate in religious rights cases where workers have refused to serve gay people.
Labour MP John McDonnell said last week that the move was “outrageous and totally unacceptable”.
The EHRC announced last week it would seek to call for“compromises” and “reasonable accommodations” in four cases due to come before the European Court of Human Rights. One involves a Christian registrar who refused to perform civil partnerships and another involves a Christian counsellor who refused to work with gay people.
EHRC legal director John Wadham said compromises and accommodations could be found for religious people in the same way that disabled people are accommodated at work.
Stonewall, Peter Tatchell and the Trades Union Congress have all strongly criticised the EHRC, with Stonewall chief executive Ben Summerskill calling the decision “deeply disturbing”.
Trades Union Congress wrote to EHRC chief executive Trevor Phillips to express “deep concern”.
The EHRC’s only LGBT commissioner, former Stonewall chief executive Angela Mason, has not responded to numerous calls and emails seeking comment.
The text of the early day motion:
That this House welcomes the decision of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to intervene in supportof four cases involving discrimination against Christians that are presently with the European Court of Human Rights; notes that this is a long overdue recognition of the need to defend religious liberty and marks an important development in relation to a better understanding of the role of faith in public life; and further welcomes the Commission’s advocacy for reasonable accommodation in the workplace as an acknowledgement of the place of conscientious objection for those with religious belief.