Is homosexuality a sin? Minister for Equality refuses to rule it out

The newly appointed government minister responsible for equality is facing controversy after she refused to say whether she believed homosexuality was a sin.

Ruth Kelly, the Secretary of State for Communities, a committed Catholic and member of the Opus Dei group, was embroiled in a renewed row over her religious beliefs yesterday. And critics attacked her new role as the Government's equality champion after it emerged she had missed a series of votes on equal rights since 1997.

The row threatens further to undermine the wide-ranging reshuffle carried out by the Prime Minister after Labour's poor performance in the local elections last week. But Ms Kelly strongly defended her position, insisting she was committed to promoting equality.

Interviewed on BBC Radio Five Live, Ms Kelly twice declined to say whether she thought homosexuality was a sin. She said: "I'm sort of getting used to these questions as I go from one department to another. Is it possible to be a practising Catholic and hold a portfolio in government? The answer is 'yes'. Why? Because I'm collectively responsible for cabinet decisions and I firmly believe in equality and I believe everyone should be protected from discrimination."

Pressed again, she replied: "I don't think it is right for politicians to start making moral judgements about people. What I think the question is, is what are my political views? As a politician, those are the ones that I'm accountable for to the public."

In a second interview with Sky News, Ms Kelly repeatedly declined to say whether she agreed that same-sex couples should be permitted to adopt children. But she insisted she would promote the rights of all.

Ms Kelly has missed a total of 12 votes on homosexuality and equal rights since 1997. They include a vote in June 1998 on the Crime and Disorder Bill to lower the age of homosexual consent, and two votes in 1999 on the Sexual Offences (amendment) Bill also lowering the age of consent.

In 2002, she also missed three votes on the Adoption and Children Bill, which permitted gay adoption, but did vote in May 2002 for an amendment to the Bill that would have allowed unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt, but exclude same-sex couples.

Ms Kelly's early days as Education Secretary were dogged with questions about her religion, and her membership of the conservative Opus Dei organisation, which features in the bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code.

She will have to implement the new Equality Act, which became law earlier this year making discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation illegal in the same way as race or gender. Pubs, hotels and religious charities will be barred from discriminating against lesbians and gay men.

Ms Kelly's comments provoked disquiet yesterday among gay rights campaigners.

A poll on the gay website pinknews.co.uk found 93 per cent of readers believed Tony Blair should reconsider Ms Kelly's appointment. Campaigners also pointed out that the gay rights group Stonewall was not invited to a briefing for stakeholders yesterday by Ms Kelly's department.

Downing Street defended Ms Kelly. The Prime Minister's spokesman, said: "She repeatedly said she supported the decisions taken by the Government in this area. She repeatedly said she is totally opposed to discrimination of any kind whatsoever. She pointed out she pushed the equality agenda when she was at the Cabinet Office."

Lorely Burt, the Liberal Democrats spokeswoman on equality, said: "How can the gay community trust legislation to be properly implemented when Ruth Kelly has such an ambiguous record on gay rights? Ruth Kelly urgently needs to come clean about whether she agrees with her own department's policies on equality issues. Blair's reshuffle tried to reduce bad headlines but has so far only succeeded in shifting trouble from one department to another."

The gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: "Given her equivocal stance and her voting record on gay rights issues, it seems inappropriate she should be in charge of a department tasked with ensuring equal rights for lesbians and gay men."

Ben Summerskill, chief executive of Stonewall, said: "We accept Ruth's assurances that she is absolutely committed to delivering the policy of the Labour Party and the Government."

'People express private views in votes of conscience'

Ruth Kelly, speaking to Nicky Campbell on Radio Five Live

Nicky Campbell: As minister for Women and Equality with your deeply held religious beliefs and membership to the Opus Dei group of Catholics... do you think homosexuality is a sin?

Ruth Kelly: I'm sort of getting used to these questions... about what it's like to be a Catholic in the middle of government.

NC: I'm not asking about that...

RK: That's exactly what you are asking, is it possible to be a practising Catholic and hold a portfolio in government? The answer is yes. Why? Because I'm collectively responsible for cabinet decisions and I firmly believe in equality...

NC: Do you think homosexuality is a sin?

RK: I don't think it's right for politicians to start making moral judgements about people ... What I think the question is, is what are my political views? Those are the ones that I'm accountable for to the public. As a politician I think everybody should be free from discrimination.

Speaking to Kay Burley on Lunchtime Live on Sky News

Kay Burley: What are your views on homosexuality?

RK: As Equality minister I'm delighted to be taking on this brief. I was the minister who set up the equality review...

KB: OK. What are your views on homosexuality?

RK: Well, as I say I don't think people with different sexual orientations ought to be discriminated against in society and as a politician I will make it my responsibility and duty to ensure I have a society which is tolerant, which is fair...

KB: In May 2002 I believe that you voted against same sex couples being able to adopt. Is that right?

RK: Look, people have private views which they express in the House of Commons on votes of conscience in the usual way as members of Parliament. As a member of the Government, I have collective cabinet responsibility...

KB: No, no no... you are the Equality minister. It's not collective responsibility. It's up to you to make sure everyone is treated equally...

RK: And I will do that.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Sir David Attenborough
people
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Sport
football
News
i100
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
News
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Environment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
environment
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

£120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

£24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

Greece elections

In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

Holocaust Memorial Day

Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

Magnetic north

The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness
Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

Homeless Veterans appeal

Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

Front National family feud?

Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
Pot of gold: tasting the world’s most expensive tea

Pot of gold

Tasting the world’s most expensive tea
10 best wildlife-watching experiences: From hen harriers to porpoises

From hen harriers to porpoises: 10 best wildlife-watching experiences

While many of Britain's birds have flown south for the winter, it's still a great time to get outside for a spot of twitching
Nick Easter: 'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

'I don’t want just to hold tackle bags, I want to be out there'

Nick Easter targeting World Cup place after England recall