Although Equalities Minister Harriet Harman has defended the Equality Bill following criticism by Pope Benedict XVI, the British government is now backing away from proposals that some have said could have forced churches to hire active homosexuals.
Harman explained that the new non-discrimination regulations will not affect purely religious positions, such as priests, vicars or imams. “Religious organizations can decide themselves how to do that,” said Harman.
However, she continued, “when it comes to non-religious jobs, those organizations must comply with the law.”
But the idea that churches might be forced to hire active homosexuals for “non-religious” positions such as youth workers has also been a significant bone of contention. Peers in the House of Lords voted on 25 January to reject an amendment that would have explicitly stated that the religious exemptions do not apply to the hiring of non-religious positions.
The government insisted that the amendment merely “clarified” existing statutes, and it was feared that the government would try to overturn the Lords’ decision in the Commons.
However, the pope’s comments, combined with fierce opposition to the controversial provisions of the bill in the House of Lords, has caused Harman to back down. She said on Tuesday night that the government will not oppose the vote in the Upper Chamber that knocked down the key government amendment.
Pope Benedict infuriated homosexualist activists when he made thinly veiled criticisms of the bill in an address to visiting English Catholic bishops this week, in which he called it a “violation of natural law.”
“Your country,” Pope Benedict said, “is well known for its firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society. Yet as you have rightly pointed out, the effect of some of the legislation designed to achieve this goal has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs.”
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Pope Drops Strong Hint to English Bishops: Get with the Program