A unique coalition of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered groups, political social justice activists, people of all faiths and none, trades unions and professional associations, was launched at the House of Commons on Tuesday, 24 November 2009. CUTTING EDGE will be inviting all Parliamentarians to be briefed on why it believes faith opt-outs from the Equality Bill must be rejected, as the Bill makes its way to the House of Lords.
The Cutting Edge Consortium, building on ground-breaking 2007 & 2009 Conferences on Faith, Homophobia, Transphobia & Human Rights (reported in previous issues of CSCS News), held an open meeting, EQUALITY BILL: OPT IN vs OPT OUT, to discuss religious exemptions to legislation on sexuality and gender identity in the Equality Bill. Creating a cutting edge by opening up new possibilities of dialogue between a huge diversity of interests and activist positions, CEC has carved out a challenging space to voice support for the Equality Bill.
Hosted by Clare Short MP, speakers included Sarah Bourke (Tooks Chambers), Andrew Copson (British Humanist Association) Maleiha Malik (Muslim Women’s Network), and Michael Rubenstein (Equal Opportunities Review).
Founder-member Maria Exall said: It is vital that progressive faith and secular voices are heard loud and clear supporting the Equality Bill and equal rights for LGBT people. The Consortium continues the debates from its 2009 conference, grounded in its 2007 Conference Statement: The Faith, Homophobia, & Human Rights Conference, gathered in London on 17th February 2007, calls on all people of goodwill, of whatever faith or none, to affirm and celebrate human equality in all its dimensions and particularly to work for the elimination of any faith-based homophobia and institutionalised prejudice towards lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people.
We reject the activities of certain religious leaders, seeking exemptions from equality legislation, and attempts to base this on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, such a right being for all, not just for some. We deplore the internalised homophobia within religious institutions that fails to confront prejudice and hate. We encourage and support those faith organisations, which express their commitment to diversity and equality in practice and policy. We believe that full civil rights for LGBT individuals are not only consistent with the right to religious freedom, but are rooted in the best and fundamental teachings of all major faiths; love, justice, compassion, and mercy, such values being shared by all who seek the common good.
We call for further progressive public policy that will deliver comprehensive and effective anti-discrimination legislation, including positive duties, on the basis of race, gender, disability, age, sexual orientation, and belief. We call on the newly formed Commission for Equality and Human Rights to listen to the experience of LGBT faith networks and those who have suffered homophobia from and within religious organisations.
Today, the alliance of over fifty faith and secular organisations supporting this conference affirms and celebrates the values of human equality and social justice, rooted in the best of faith traditions, and shared by all who are committed to a fully human vision of a transformed society.
The Cutting Edge Consortium includes the Lesbian & Gay Christian Movement, Interfaith Alliance UK, British Humanist Association, Muslim Education Centre Oxford, Liberal Judaism, Trades Union Congress, and A:Gender, Centre for the Study of Christianity & Sexuality, Progressive British Muslims, Ekklesia, Inclusive Church, LGBT Consortium of Voluntary & Community Organisations.
The Cutting Edge web-site, including presentations from the 2007 & 2009 Conferences and other key resources, will be launched shortly
Cutting Edge Consortium Enquiries:
Simon : 07906 445695 – Maria: 07714 206404
Here are some notes that Martin Pendergast made at the open meeting:
Angela Eagle [Minister of State at the Government Equalities Office and Ministry of Justice] said that, despite the wording of the Bill, the Government INTENTION is that religious exemptions should apply ONLY to priests: NOT, for example, to accountants working for organisations claiming a religious ethos. She added that tribunals DON’T always interpret the law correctly: so she urges claimants to appeal if they get a raw deal from the first ruling.
Sarah Bourke, a barrister on yesterday’s panel of invited speakers, warned that the Christian Legal Centre has issued a briefing on European equality measures, which it describes as “cultural genocide”. The briefing is aimed NOT at the UK, but for consumption in central and eastern Europe. [I don't know when this was written, and can't immediately find it on their website: www.christianlegalcentre.com]
Maleiha Malik, a reader in law on the panel of invited speakers, pointed out that litigants such as Lilian Ladele [the Islington registrar], are not simply individuals aggrieved that personal freedom is being infringed: they are frequently funded by the American Religious Right.
Dr. Evan Harris mentioned that extending the offence of harassment to OUTSIDE the workplace was opposed by Stonewall: although School’s Out, OutRage!, and even the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, wanted to include this. Stonewall’s opposition was subsequently cited by the Government as justification for excluding it. However someone suggested that many cases of “harassment” can already prosecuted as direct or indirect discrimination.
One common example of indirect discrimination is that many Christian organisations, following the recommendation of the Christian Institute, have policy which states that they do NOT discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation: but ALSO have a Code of Conduct, enabling them to fire anyone for sexual relations outside marriage. Although this can apply to straights, it does NOT apply equally, as marriage is not available to lesbians or gay men.
Keith Porteous-Wood [National Secular Society] explained that the exemption just struck down by the European Commission was originally inserted into legislation at the behest of theArchbishops’ Council, demonstrating how religious bodies exert influence beyond their already excessive statutory powers: and that it had then taken years of campaigning before the European Commission issued its ruling last week.
A member of the audience observed that David Cameron has been getting increasingly vociferous about his religious credentials over the past year, as we near the General Election. This does not bode well for LGBTIQ rights under a Tory Government. [Is anyone surprised?]
Concern was expressed that trans children are excluded from the current Bill. A trans member of the audience stated that the mean age for developing awareness of trans identity is age seven: but the modal age is just five years. [For nonstatisticians: most children realise at five: though a few who realise later skew the arithmetic mean to age seven.] Around 25% of trans people apparently attempt suicide: and a further 25% consider suicide.