Gay exemption may be illegal, say MPs

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Indy Politics

Government plans to allow churches, mosques and synagogues to discriminate against gay and lesbian staff may be illegal, a powerful parliamentary committee said yesterday.

The Liberal Democrats called for the proposals to be scrapped after the Joint Statutory Instruments Committee warned they may contravene EU anti-discrimination law.

The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 were meant to bring the UK into line with Brussels by banning workplace discrimination on grounds of sexuality. But the Church of England gained a last-minute exemption which the TUC, liberal church groups and gay rights campaigners claim would give religious organisations freedom to sack and not hire homosexual staff.

David Tredinnick, the committee chairman, said it was doubtful whether the Government had the power to include the exemption. Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on equality, said: "Downing Street caved in to the prejudices of extreme religious organisations who have consistently called for the right to sack lesbian or gay workers regardless of the relevance of their sexuality to their jobs."

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, the gay and lesbian lobbying group, said: "If the Government simply withdraws it, there would be no confusion."