Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations

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The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations are secondary legislation in the United Kingdom, outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education and public functions on the grounds of sexual orientation.

The legislation is made under powers granted by the Equality Act 2006. Sections 81 and 82 of the Equality Act give the power to make regulations to the Secretary of State and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, respectively. Regulations made under section 81 cover Great Britain (i.e., England and Wales and Scotland) whereas regulations made under section 82 extend to Northern Ireland.

Provisions to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief were already enshrined in the primary Equality Act 2006. However, the Labour Party had not originally wanted to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians.[1] The original Equality Bill, therefore, contained no clauses dealing with homophobic discrimination. As the Bill progressed through the House of Lords, amendments by the Lord Alli, succeeded in forcing a Government concession;[2] the Labour MP Desmond Turner led a similar revolt in the Commons.[3] However, it was by then too late to allow the new measures to be added substantively to the Bill. Instead, MPs and Peers agreed to delegate the drafting of regulations to a Government minister. This paved the way for a lengthy public consultation[4][5] followed by months of Cabinet wrangling[6][7] before an agreed text was finally laid before Parliament in spring 2007.

The regulations for Great Britain were approved by a vote in both Houses of Parliament. The procedure for the Northern Ireland regulations was specified as a vote by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Given this had been suspended, arrangements for measures that require approval by the Northern Ireland Assembly were subject to the negative procedure (i.e., they could be annulled by a resolution of either House of Parliament).

Northern Ireland Regulations[edit]

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2006[8] were made on 8 November 2006 and laid before Parliament under paragraph 7(3) of the Schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 2000[9] since the Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended. The regulations came into force on 1 January 2007. Later in January 2007 there was an attempt to pass a motion to pray for an annulment of the regulations in the House of Lords. The resolution failed to pass by a margin of 199 to 68.[10] Regulations covering Great Britain came into force on 30 April 2007.

In 2007, the Christian Institute (CI) and others sought a judicial review to overturn the Sexual Orientation Regulations in Northern Ireland. Mr Justice Weatherup rejected the CI's complaint, ruling that while a clause relating to harassment (a clause unique to the Northern Irish version of the Regulations) should be set aside, the remainder of the Regulations were to remain in force.

Regulations relating to Great Britain[edit]

Regulations covering the rest of the United Kingdom were first laid before Parliament on 7 March 2007. The Government had previously made an announcement that, for examples adoption agencies will be covered by the regulations (including those with a religious affiliation).[11]

In the House of Commons, the regulations[12] were adopted by 309 votes to 99.[13] The dissenters were mostly Conservative MPs, although twenty-nine Tories did support the measures. However ten Labour Members (Joe Benton, Tom Clarke, Frank Cook, Jim Dobbin, David Drew, Peter Kilfoyle, James McGovern, Alan Meale, Geraldine Smith and David Taylor) voted against, along with four Liberal Democrats (Alan Beith, Colin Breed, Tim Farron and Bob Russell).

In the Lords, Peers approved the regulations by a majority of forty-six.[14]

The regulations came into effect on 30 April 2007.

Guidance on the regulations was also issued by the Department for Communities and Local Government.[15]

Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham declared his opposition to the act, saying that the legislation contradicted the Catholic Church's moral values. He supported efforts to have Catholic adoption agencies exempted from sexual orientation regulations, which were ultimately unsuccessful in a judgement given on 21 July 2010. Further to this, the House of Lords is still considering an exemption to the legislation that will let religious agencies abide by their belief-based proscriptions regarding employment of active homosexuals.

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