Current Affairs

Church of England attacks equality legislation

Tony Grew September 7, 2007
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An official document from the policy-making body of the Church of England has raised objections to the new Single Equality Bill.

The new legislation, which is at consultation stage, aims to harmonise and simplify the law with regards to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation and other forms of discrimination.

In its official submission to the consultation, the Archbishops’ Council said new laws were unnecessary and the Church could be forced to marry people who have undergone gender reassignment surgery.

The council also expressed concern that faith schools may be required to “promote” same-sex relationships.

“We have been concerned at what has seemed in some recent debates to be a trend towards regarding religion and belief as deserving of a lesser priority in discrimination legislation than the other strands where the law seeks to bring protection,” the submission said.

“Religion and belief seemed to be treated as subordinate to other rights because they were deemed to be a personal choice.

“This does not amount to, or achieve, equal respect for different religious groups and those of no religion; rather it amounts to an enforced secularism that fails to respect religious belief at all.”

The Discrimination Law Review finishes at the end of this month and will set out the manifesto for the new Commission for Equality and Human Rights (CEHR) and will form the Single Equality Act.

The CEHR will provide protections for minority groups such as the gay community, underlined by the new Act.

The Sexual Orientation Regulations, which guarantee equality in the provision of goods and services to the gay community, came into force in April.

The CEHR will inherit the responsibilities of the existing equality commissions, the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), the Disability Rights Commission and the Equal Opportunities Commission.

The body will also have responsibilities on rights in relation to age, sexual orientation, religion and belief, and will ensure that unions and organisations such as the Citizen Advice Bureau have the correct training and information to advise people on these rights.

It begins work in next month and will provide a single voice on equality and human rights.

But its creation has been controversial, with gay rights activists complaining that their specific concerns will be marginalised within a body responsible for everything from equal pay for women to the rights of the disabled.

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