Harman’s Equality Bill passes in Parliament

The Equality Bill was passed in Parliament on Tuesday, with the Government forced to accept defeat over church employment freedom.

However, other measures in the Bill – championed by Equality Minister Harriet Harman – may interfere with the religious liberty of Christians.

The Tories and the Lib Dems welcomed the Bill. Labour vowed that the Bill will be “driven and pressed through society” if they win the General Election.


The Bill permits churches to opt in to allow homosexual civil partnership registrations to take place on their premises.

Critics fear there could be legal action against those who do not opt in, although the Government insists such legal claims could not be brought.

The Bill also imposes a legal duty on public bodies, like schools and the police, to promote homosexual and transsexual rights.


While the Bill also introduces a ‘religious equality’ duty, such measures have in the past resulted in Christianity being sidelined from public life in a misguided attempt to avoid offending other faiths.

Under the Bill’s original proposals the Government had wanted to significantly narrow the freedom of churches to have employment rules that are in sympathy with church teaching.

But Christian peer, Lady O’Cathain, led a successful campaign to stop the plans in the House of Lords and – faced with time pressure in the Commons this week – the Government was forced to concede.


Speaking during Tuesday’s Commons debate, SNP MP John Mason said: “The wider religious public felt that the Bill represented a tightening of the previous legislation, whatever the Government might have said, and it would have incorporated positions that the Government had not intended to include.

“Youth workers were originally mentioned in the explanatory notes, and some did not realise that such workers are in many ways junior ministers, or junior priests, who lead young people spiritually in just the same way as ministers, priests and pastors.

“Within church and religious organisations, belief and practice are seen as important and tied together, and to say, ‘Such and such behaviour has nothing to do with the job,’ shows a lack of understanding about what religious people think.”


Speaking about the Bill as a whole, Tory frontbencher Mark Harper said that “the Conservative party has never opposed the Bill. We are very pleased that it is nearing the end of its progress and that it will get Royal Assent before the House is dissolved.”

Labour’s Vera Baird wrapped up the debate for the Government. She said: “The Bill will work only if it is driven and pressed through society.”

She added that “the only Government who will drive it forward are the next Labour Government.”

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