Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Goods and Services - Sexual Orientation

The Govt has published the regulations for Northern Ireland covering discrimination in goods and services here.

They match the Government's original intention of legislating in this area while provising tightly drawn exemptions for 'doctinal reasons' i.e. organisaitons pertaining to religious belief and practice.

As well as substantially exempting religious organisations (but not in terms of commercial activity, education, activity undertaken on behalf of a public body and goods and services generally offered - i.e. not inclusively for members of a particular religion etc) it also includes protection against harassment.

Various organisations of the religious right in the UK have gone ballistic and are mounting a massive camapign effort to try to get the Government to withdraw the NI regulations as well as to water them down when introduced in the rest of the UK.

For UK (and slightly hysterical) reaction see here

In addition the issue has been debated by the Northern Ireland Assembly (the debate makes fascinating reading and really does very well capture the issues at stake).

Further to this the various parties opposed are taking the issue to the High Court BBC news report

Further interesting coverage can be seen in the rather interesting written questions put down by Lord Lester, which can be seen on the web site 'They Work for You'

From a religious angle a lot of the debate can be seen on the Thinking Anglican blog site (as opposed the other kind of Anglican......) for a summary see here

The Government aren't really saying much if anything at the moment. They are though (presumably) going to defend the regulations for Northern Ireland in the High Court. The GB regulations are due to come into force at the beginning of April.

My view is that where LGB people are and have a history of facing discrimination, equality law should bve there to afford a measure of equality - broad exemptions (anything other than a tightly drawn exemption like the one announced for Northern Ireland) have the effect of nullifying the effectiveness of the law - which is to create a general expectation that in the provision of goods and services, discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientaiton is unlawful.

The purpose of an equality law is to actually provide for equality, not to protect discriminatory attitudes but to combat them. Anything else is what the Bible would refer to as a "bag with holes in it" Haggai Chapter 1 verse 6.

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