High Court awaits the Government if Lords fail to halt new ‘gay rights’ laws
A judicial review of the Government’s new ‘gay rights’ laws for Northern Ireland will go ahead as planned in March if the House of Lords tonight fails to annul the controversial laws.
On Monday 18 December the High Court in Belfast granted leave for a judicial review of the Sexual Orientation Regulations ( Northern Ireland) and set a hearing date for March.
The legal action was taken by The Christian Institute and five Christian denominations from Northern Ireland representing 15,000 Christians in the Province. It argues that the Sexual Orientation Regulations interfere with the rights of religious groups to act according to their religious beliefs under the Human Rights Act, and that the public consultation process was flawed.
The centrepiece of the Northern Ireland regulations is a special harassment provision. Under the new law churches or charities can be sued for harassment if they create an “offensive environment” for gays. The definition is so loosely drafted that critics fear that public disagreement with gay rights or homosexual practice could easily be construed as ‘harassment’. In addition, under the regulations, the burden of proof is reversed so that those accused are guilty until proved innocent.
When Parliament debated whether to have religious harassment provisions in November 2005 (with the same wording) it decided against the idea because it threatened free speech. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats opposed such a law. Now the Lib Dems look set to back the same harassment provision on grounds of sexual orientation.
Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said:
“The regulations are a charter for suing Christians. The Government is wrong to pick on religious people simply because of their religious beliefs on homosexual practice. Christian groups are particularly vulnerable because they are involved in many compassionate social projects which provide facilities and services. Their Christian beliefs are the motivation for their compassion. Why should a non-profit making Christian nursing home face a costly legal action because it only allows married heterosexual couples to have a double room? And why should a homosexual rights protestor have legal powers to sue a Church minister for what he says about Church membership?
“To oppose a harassment law for religion because it damages free speech but support the same law for sexual orientation is hypocritical. The Lib Dems should re-consider their position. I hope the House of Lords annuls the regulations, but if it does not we will see the Government in the High Court in March.”