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Analysis: A lawyer’s take on the Equality Bill

PinkNews Staff Writer July 15, 2009
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The Equality Bill is now in the report stage before undergoing a third reading. It has been designed to consolidate and simplify existing laws and the government has hailed it as a gateway to “a fairer future”.

However, it has come under attack from a number of individuals and groups, including gay campaigners such as Peter Tatchell.

Writing for, Sarah Ilyas, an employment lawyer at Russell Jones & Walker, examines the impact the Bill will have on the LGBT community.

She said: “The Equality Bill proclaims to provide clarification and consolidation of the existing discrimination laws and aims to strengthen the protection provided to the LGBT community.

“In its present form, the Bill proposes the following changes to the law which would impact positively on the LBGT community:

“One is the introduction of an Equality Duty – this will require all public bodies to consider the needs of everyone who uses their services or works for them. This will include advancing equal opportunity for LGBT people.

“Another is ‘positive action’ in the workplace. This means that when faced with applicants with equal qualifications, an employer will be able to choose the candidate from an under-represented group, eg, a gay or lesbian person.

“The Bill will extend the powers of employment tribunals, allowing them to make recommendations to employers where, for example, sexual orientation discrimination has been identified which would impact on the whole workforce.

“It will also prohibit private members’ clubs from discriminating against members or guests based on their sexual orientation or gender reassignment.”

Ilyas noted that the Bill has also introduced the concept of “dual discrimination” which would allow a lesbian woman to make a combined claim based on sex and sexual orientation discrimination.

However, she added: “The Bill proposes to prohibit discrimination by association or by perception, thus protecting a person who is perceived as gay or the parent/child of a gay person but this is currently only in the explanatory notes and not the Bill itself. ”

On the inconsistencies cited by various politicians and groups, Ilyas said: “The Bill contains some significant gaps, with one being the failure to provide full protection against sexual orientation harassment.

“Another issue is that the list of protected characteristics does not extend to gender variant or ‘queer’ characteristics.

“Finally, there is no protection for discrimination against civil partnerships outside the employment sector.”

Ilyas concluded: “These gaps represent missed opportunities by parliament but overall the Bill contains some welcome steps in the right direction towards promoting equality for LGBT people.”

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