Rights trump faith?

Andrea Williams on the forthcoming Sexual Orientation Regulations

An incredibly important piece of legislation threatens Christian freedom to act with integrity according to the Bible. The government have proposed 'Sexual Orientation Regulations' which will impact churches, Christian organizations, charities, groups and individuals. The Regulations have been described by some leading Christian figures from across denominational lines as representing a greater threat to Christian liberty than did the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill.

What are the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SOR)? Using power they

gave to themselves through the Equality Act 2006, the government are pushing through a new law (the SOR) without the need for parliamentary debate, which will make it illegal for anyone who provides goods, services, facilities, premises, education or public functions to someone else, to discriminate against that person on the grounds of their sexual orientation i.e. whether they are homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual.

Why is it a problem? Firstly, we must stress that Christians are commanded to love all their neighbours equally. Christians should never be homophobic

nor discriminate against homosexuals out of bigotry or prejudice. However, Scripture and tradition are both clear that the only rightful sexual relationship for which we were created, is a relationship between a man and a woman in the context of a legitimate marriage. Consequently there are times when Christians need to be free to discriminate against homosexuals in order to make it clear that we believe in the Bible's teaching that homosexual practice is wrong.

Consider a Christian couple who own a bed and breakfast. They provide a 'service' according to the law. Therefore when the SOR become law, it would be illegal for that Christian couple to refuse a homosexual and his partner (who had a registered civil partnership) a room with a double bed for the night, even if they also refused an unmarried heterosexual such a room: according to the new Regulations a registered gay civil partnership is equal to a marriage, and to discriminate against gay civil partners would constitute discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

Consider a church who hire out their hall to local groups. In law, that hiring out counts as offering of ‘premises'. If the church refuses to hire the hall out to a local gay group, that would be illegal discrimination under the new Regulations, even if the gay group wanted to use the venue for an event promoting homosexual practices.

Consider a Church of England school. They offer education, and were the SOR to become law, it would be illegal for the CofE

school to have a 'bias' on their curriculum in favour of heterosexual relationships - this would discriminate against any possible homosexual pupils or homosexual parents who wanted their child to be taught about the acceptability of homosexuality. There are many, many other examples. When is it happening? The regulations for Northern Ireland have been fast tracked and have already been published, and will come into force on 1 January. It seems clear that it will be illegal for a Christian printer in Northern Ireland to refuse to print material promoting gay sex; it will be illegal for an Islamic wedding photographer to refuse to attend and take photographs at a gay civil partnership ceremony; and it will be illegal for a Jewish conference centre to refuse to allows its

premises to be used by an organization promoting homosexual practice. In matters of education, it seems clear that there will be no exemptions for faith schools.

What can be done? At Christian Concern for our Nation we have produced two comprehensive information and action packs on this piece of legislation.

Although the consultation has now closed it is still important for Christians to be aware of this legislation, so please make sure your local church and any local Christian organizations have a copy, to be found at <www. christianconcernforournation.co.uk>.

With further material from the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, which always has up to date details and explanation, at <www.lawcf.org>.

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