LONDON, England (Reuters)
Sweeping gay rights laws have been upheld in Britain despite protests by faith groups. A bid to block the rules in Northern Ireland, where they are already in place, failed in the upper house of parliament, the House of Lords, by a majority of three to one, the BBC reported. Faith groups, which say the legislation will force them to act against their religious beliefs, earlier delivered a petition to Queen Elizabeth, while about 1,000 demonstrators staged a torch-lit protest outside parliament.
“Most of the people here are standing for freedom of conscience in the sense of ‘if you believe something is wrong the law shouldn’t make you do it,’” one protester, who asked to not to be named, told Reuters.
The legislation, a cornerstone of Britain’s efforts to promote equal rights, would ban discrimination in the provision of goods and services on the basis of sexuality in a similar way to laws banning sex and race discrimination.
Christian opponents argue the laws are a major threat to their freedom of conscience and that they should not be penalized for acting according to their beliefs. Gay rights campaigners say the proposals would simply extend existing anti-discrimination laws to homosexuals. “It would not be acceptable in the areas of race, disability, age or religion or belief, and is not acceptable here. Either we hold human rights to be universal or we do not,” said Andrew Copson, of the British Humanist Association.