From coffee with Davis Mac-Iyalla at London Bridge I went to Committee Room 5 in the House of Commons, meeting Revd Tina Beardsley, CA trustee, in the security queue. We were there for the launch meeting of the Cutting Edge Consortium chaired by Clare Short MP. The meeting discussed the religious exemptions to the legislation on sexuality and gender identity in the Equality Bill.
The presence of the British Humanist Association, the National Secular Society, Unison, Changing Attitude, LGCM, Sibyls, Ekklesia and the Muslim Women’s Network working together demonstrated (to the shame to many in the church) how people of different faiths and no faith can work creatively together for LGBT equality.
One message was reiterated several times – that the exemptions granted to the church in the original Equality Act were very narrowly drawn and religious organizations have repeatedly pushed the boundaries beyond where they should rightly be. The new Bill does not further narrow the boundaries but re-emphasises where they should have been from the start.
Two groups in particular have been campaigning against the equality legislation as it applies to LGBT people – the Christian Legal Centre and Christian Concern for Our Nation. They were described as fabulously well organized - the briefing documents they produce for their followers show what we are up against. The organized conservative religious groups have been very successful in carving out exemptions for themselves, totally unregulated islands of prejudice.
One speaker had researched the source of the significant funds needed to take Lillian Ladele’s case against Islington Council to the Court of Appeal. It was with some surprise that I learnt the appeal is being well-funded by a US-based conservative evangelical Christian group.
Fundamentalist speakers and organizations are NOT speaking for the religious majority in this country but the Government is frightened by their pressure tactics (as is the church). The reality is chilling – when the Equality Bill was first debated in the House of Lords not one religious speaker spoke in favour of strengthening protection for LGBT people, including the Church of England Bishops who spoke in the debate. The exemptions granted were the direct result of lobbying and pressure from the Archbishops’ Council – the power of the Church of England in Parliament is a big part of our problem.
The Church of England is unafraid of lobbying, and lobbying successfully, for exemptions which allow the church to continue to discriminate against equality in ministry for lay and ordained LGBT Anglicans. The Church of England has become a less safe place for LGBT clergy and an island of homophobia and prejudice. As one speaker said, the view of religion which has been foisted on us in the discrimination law has come from the most powerful, conservative, reactionary religious groups, including the Archbishops’ Council.
This helps explain why Archbishop John Sentamu can express views about young people on the church which he is unable to apply to LGBT people (even if in private he might wish to) and why Lambeth Palace says it can’t issue a statement about the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in Uganda. Not only would it be seen as intruding in the affairs of another Province, it would incur the wrath of the powerful conservative lobby in the church. You can be sure they are putting pressure on church leaders to say nothing against the Bill.