A new law that aims to protect gay people from discrimination has passed in the House of Lords in England despite vocal religious opposition.
The lords voted by 199 votes to 68 to uphold the regulations, introduced on January 1. The rules make it unlawful to discriminate against lesbian and gay people in the provision of services ranging from healthcare to hotel rooms.
The law – the Sexual Orientation Regulations – has already come into force in Northern Ireland and is set to become active in England, Wales and Scotland in April.
Tuesday’s debate in the House of Lords saw up to 1000 members of various religious groups taking to Parliament Square in a large torch-lit protest in order to gain exemption from the regulations. The protesters claimed that law would force them to promote homosexuality.
Religious leaders have been accused of “scaremongering, lies and hypocrisy” over their campaign against the regulations. The remarks came from gay human rights group OutRage! before the House of Lords debate.
Peter Tatchell of OutRage! said that “Religious homophobes are demanding the right to discriminate against gays and lesbians. They use theology as a justification for bigotry and are spinning a sensationalist, malicious campaign of disinformation to stir up opposition to the regulations.”
If the religious groups had secured exemption form the law, “church schools will be able to expel gay pupils, faith-based hospices and nursing homes will be allowed to refuse gay patients, and religious charities like night-shelters will be free to turn away gay homeless people,” said Tatchell.
The new legal protection for lesbians, gay and bisexual people has been being fiercely resisted by religious conservatives – mostly by Christian fundamentalists, but also by some Jewish and Muslim groups.
Gay rights organisation Stonewall said in a statement that it is “delighted” about “last night’s House of Lords vote to keep new ‘goods and services’ protections in Northern Ireland.”
Ben Summerskill, Stonewall chief executive, said that, “This is the largest majority we’ve ever secured in the House of Lords and we’re delighted. The highly inflammatory and well-funded campaign to oppose these much-needed protections reached depths of unpleasantness which we haven’t seen for some years. It has been a stark reminder of how much prejudice still exists in Britain.”