Yes – of course – there are great sensitivities around how to give everyone religious freedom to believe their doctrines and live their lives according to that doctrine whilst at the same time ensuring equality and freedom from discrimination. That is one of the great challenges that we have to meet – and it reared its head constantly in the Equality Bill.
However, in the end, the provision of goods and services must be provided on an equal basis to all. That is where Chris Grayling has failed to understand the real nature of equality. It will mean, for example, for those Christians who believe it is against their religion or belief to rent facilities to homosexuals – will not be able to exclude gay couples.
That is a clear example of where the line is drawn. There are more complex ones – particularly in employment where I know Churches feel it is entirely their business who they employ and they want to employ Christians. The line here is drawn to allow discrimination in the employment of someone who is involved in the liturgical side of the Church – but not in ordinary jobs within that establishment. For example – obviously the Vicar, priest and youth leaders who have a duty to teach will be discriminated in favour of for those jobs – but a caretaker, accountant, etc will not. That is the line that the law draws.
The problem with what Grayling said – apart from the substance itself – is that it reveals (just as Cameron’s stuttering performance when being interviewed on gay issues demonstrated) that the Tory Party in its heart still doesn’t believe in equality.
You hear it in the Chamber. During the Equality Bill, I was speaking about the need for protection under the law for those with gender identity issues. From the Tory backbenches I could hear the cries of ‘filthy perverts’.
So – yes – there are huge sensitivities and challenges in achieving a way through that values and frees Christians and others to observe their faith – whilst protecting the rights of all to equal treatment under the law.