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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

C# Developer (C#, ASP.NET Developer, SQL, MVC, WPF, Real-Time F

£40000 - £48000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Devel...

C# Swift Payment Developer (C#, ASP.NET, .NET, MVC, Authorize.N

£45000 - £60000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C# Swift...

Front-End Developer (JavaScript, HTML5, CSS3, C#, GUI)

£55000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End Deve...

Graduate C# Developer (.NET, WPF, SQL, Agile, C++) - London

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Graduate C# De...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?