The British House of Lords has passed the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland), 199 - 68. The regulations will outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the provision of goods and services - meaning that in Northern Ireland at least people won't be able to refuse to rent you a house or provide healthcare simply because you are gay (or straight, for that matter). The regulations will be extended to the rest of the UK later in the year.
Naturally, this has precipitated the usual religious backlash, with extremist Christians, Muslims and Jews united in bigotry and homophobia. Meanwhile, their more mainstream compatriots look on from the sidelines in silent but deniable approval (not so silent or deniable in the case of some Bishops, it seems). If anyone was wondering why 82% of UKanians believe that religion is a cause of division and tension between people, this is one reason. When religion speaks nowdays, it is too often a voice of hate, trying to exclude people from society, seeking tolerance only for themselves. While there are decent and liberal religious people, they don't seem to be speaking up about it and making it clear that their god isn't about hatred.
Meanwhile, the Guardian's Polly Toynbee makes the excellent point that the state should not be devolving social services to those who insist on a right to discriminate:
Lord Ferrers in the last debate said hospitals should be allowed to discriminate if they had a Christian ethos. Does that mean they do now? Are they turning away gay Aids patients? He said a pro-life Catholic hospital should be allowed to turn away a lesbian for fertility treatment. (Though any non-Catholic turning to Catholics for fertility treatment needs their head examined.) The Catholic adoption society said it will shut up shop if it has to allow gay couples to apply. Churches say they will never let out a hall to a gay organisation. Christians running soup kitchens say they want to refuse gays shelter and soup. (Soup!) The Catholic Archbishop of Liverpool threatens to withdraw all cooperation over schools and charity programmes if the law goes through. The Bishop of Rochester says it will damage church work in inner cities. (Only if his church shuts down services.) The C of E pretends that the law would force it to bless civil unions (it won't).
Listen to all these good reasons why the state should step back from its current infatuation with faith provision of social services. In a democracy, public services paid for out of general taxes can't be held to ransom by the weird sexual fantasies of unelected service providers.
I couldn't agree more. If social service agencies aren't willing to comply fully with anti-discrimination law, they shouldn't be receiving state funding.