Sexual Orientation Regulations, lobby Ruth Kelly and your MP to stop it.
New Information and Action Pack
(8th November 2006)
What are the Sexual Orientation Regulations (SORs) and how will they affect Christians?
This Pack is designed for people who are already familiar with the basic issues and principles regarding the SORs. For those who need it, full details of the wording, operation and implications of the SORs can be found at http://www.christianconcernforournation.co.uk/sor/index.php.
How long do we have untilthe final decision is made on the SORs?
It has been very hard to find out the exact details of the content and progress of the SORs. What is clear is that the Government have delayed the implementation of the Regulations (which were due to come into force in October 2006) because of the large number of responses by faith groups to the consultation which ended in June of this year, and because of the serious difficulties thrown up by this controversial law.
The Government have now committed themselves to bringing the Regulations into force in April 2007. This means it is likely that the Regulations will be voted on by Parliament at the latest during February 2007.
How is the final decision on the SORs going to be made? It is crucial to note that this law is being made by way of Regulations – it is not an Act of Parliament.
This means that instead of having 3 readings in the House of Commons and 3 in the House of Lords with hours of debate and opportunity for amendments to be made, the Regulations only have one presentation in the Commons and one in the Lords, and once the Government call for a vote on them, no amendments can be made: Parliament simply gets to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It is around 40 years since such a vote was last defeated.
As soon as the Government place the Regulations for a vote, it will be too late to make any changes to them. This means that even though it is only when the Government publish the SORs for this vote that we will know exactly how the Regulations are worded and what implications they have, if Christians want to influence the passage of this law in order to protect Christian freedom of conscience, they have to act now.
This need is reinforced by the fact that the vote could occur at any time: it could even be next week. The conclusion is clear: any action which Christians want to take regarding the SORs must be taken now.
What is the latest on the implications of the SORs for Christians? After numerous meetings with senior MPs from both Labour and the Opposition parties, we have quite a clear idea of how the Regulations will be worded. However, we emphasise that neither we, nor anyone outside the Labour Party, has seen the actual content of the Regulations.
The basic approach of the Government is that they are reluctant to make any significant concessions to protect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience because of a concern that this will water-down the rights which the Regulations give to homosexuals.
We have had indications that the Regulations will contain some protection exempting ‘organised religion’ from the ambit of the law. This is positive in that it will protect churches. However, it seems clear that the Government are not currently intending to provide exemptions from the Regulations for individual Christians. In particular, they are firmly against giving Christians protection when they are operating in a commercial sector. The essence of this view is that as soon as anyone with religious beliefs engages in providing goods, services, etc for profit, they can no longer claim that the law should protect their right to act according to their beliefs.
Therefore our understanding is that, as things stand, the Regulations will not protect Christians or Christian organisations (other than churches), from being forced to act against the Bible’s teaching on homosexuality, particularly if they operate in the commercial sector.
Unless the situation changes, it is our opinion that the Regulations will represent a substantial inroad into our freedom of speech and our freedom to act and live by the teaching of the Bible. We are very concerned at this legislation which promotes one moral view of homosexuality over another, and which discriminates against Christians by creating a legal framework whereby Christians can be forced to promote, facilitate or assist homosexual practice.
WHAT CAN CHRISTIANS DO?
At this stage, there are three key things which can be done.
Firstly and most importantly, please pray about this situation. We know from the Bible that God hears our prayers and that powerful and mighty miracles can happen when we humble ourselves before God and call on His name.
We saw exactly such a miracle when so many Christian came together to pray about the Religious Hatred Bill. It was because God heard those prayers that today we continue to live in a country where we are free to preach the Gospel and cannot be locked up simply because some people take offence at our words.
Secondly, Christian individuals, organisations and churches should represent their ongoing concerns to Ruth Kelly and Meg Munn who are the ministers in charge of the final decision relating to the SORs. Below we have set out the points that need to be made to politicians when contacting them about these Regulations. We also include (below) a template letter to give a basis for writing to the ministers (please note that the template letter is addressed to MPs, so will need some minor alterations to make it suitable for sending to the ministers).
The contact details for the ministers are also found on the ‘How to Lobby’ pages (below). It requires the minds of these two people, Ruth Kelly and Meg Munn, to be changed, for Christian freedoms to be safeguarded.
Thirdly, the same representations should be made to your local MP. Urge your MP to then pass on your views to Meg Munn and Ruth Kelly. This should also have a powerful influence on the passage of the SORs. Full details about how to meet with or write to MPs can be found on the ‘How to Lobby’ pages below.
WHAT POINTS NEED TO BE MADE TO MPs AND THE GOVERNMENT?
Ultimately, in standing up for the right to follow the Bible’s teaching that sex was created by God to be enjoyed exclusively between a married man and woman, we are standing up for truth. In the face of a law which fundamentally moves away from God’s design for human behaviour, it is for Christians to stand up and warn Parliament that if it does so, it will be the whole of society that suffers.
We therefore need to constantly remember that our motivation in seeking to change this law for the better is a desire for all people to repent of their sinfulness and turn to Jesus – to return to a right relationship with God. This is a message of good news for all people, whatever their sexual orientations. From our discussions with politicians it does seem that there are a number of specific things which Christians need to emphasise in order for MPs and the Government to understand the need to change their current approach to these Regulations.
1. Christians need to explain the Biblical basis for objecting to this law, and to explain that believing that God created sex to be enjoyed exclusively between a married man and woman does not make a Christian homophobic.
2. Christians need to point out the large number of people who wholeheartedly believe in the Bible’s teaching that the only right sexual relationship is between a man and a woman in the context of marriage – it is not an outdated or extreme belief.
3. Christians need to explain that a law that could result in them being forced to assist or promote homosexual practice is therefore completely unacceptable.
4. Christians need to emphasise that it is just as vital that we are free to follow the Bible’s teaching outside church, as it is to be able to inside Church.
5. Christians need to emphasise specifically that it is crucial that we are free to follow the Bible’s teaching in our jobs.
THIS POINT IS KEY.
If you can illustrate the point with reference to your own job, or a job of a Christian you know, this is particularly helpful. Avoid tenuous examples and focus on occasions where, unless safeguards are placed in the Regulations, a job which involves providing goods, services, premises or education could require you to directly promote or assist extra-marital sexual practice. For example: · a Christian printer is not free to practise Christianity if they are forced by law to promote homosexual practice by printing a flyer for a gay nightclub/gay pride march. · a Christian teacher is not free to practise Christianity if they are forced by law to promote homosexual practice via a legal obligation to teach their pupils that practising homosexuality should be actively considered by children as an alternative and an equal to heterosexual marriage. · a Christian IT consultant is not free to practise Christianity if they are forced by law to assist homosexual practice by building a website designed for same-sex dating.
6. Christians need to stress that in reality it will be extremely rare for them to need to exercise the freedom to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation. We should point out that Christian teaching would encourage us to provide goods, services etc in a non-discriminatory manner to all people (both heterosexual and homosexual).
Again, using specific personal examples will be helpful. Some examples that we have thought of include that Christians would willingly provide services to homosexuals in a church café. Christians would willingly provide goods to homosexuals in a Christian bookshop. Christians would willingly provide education to homosexuals in a church school. It is only in rare instances where provision of goods, services etc would actually promote or assist conduct which the Bible teaches is wrong, that the exception would need to operate.
7. Christians need to explain that if the Regulations do not protect Christian freedom of conscience and religion, they will be forced to provide no goods or services rather than be forced to act contrary to the Bible in providing them. This will be to the detriment of many in society who currently benefit from the goods and services provided by Christians.
I write in relation to the proposed Sexual Orientation Regulations. You may have noted the Government’s announcement that they are to delay the implementation of the Sexual Orientation Regulations by 6 months in order to deal with what Ruth Kelly has described as ‘difficult issues’. She stated that the Regulations must ‘make sure there is effective protection from discrimination [for homosexuals] while ensuring that people have the right to religious freedom’ (BBC Radio 5, 26th October).
I share Mrs Kelly’s desire to find the correct balance between non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, and the right to religious freedom. However, I am concerned that at the moment, the Government’s approach to these Regulations has not found the correct balance.
Although there has been no draft of these Regulations, the Government consultation on the Regulations and indications given by civil servants working on the Regulations, have set out the preliminary position of the Government relating to the need to protect the right to religious freedom and the right to freedom of conscience.
This approach seems to be to offer exemptions from the Regulations for ‘organised religion’ (i.e. churches) but not for individual believers, and in particular, not for Christians who work in the commercial sector. As a Christian myself, I would like to explain why I think this approach is wrong, and why it discriminates against me and many others across the country.
As a Christian, I believe in the Bible’s teaching that all people should be treated graciously and in a non-discriminatory manner – whatever their sexual orientation. I, along with many others in England (probably over 3 million according to a recent survey), also believe in the Bible’s teaching that the only rightful sexual relationship is between a wife and her husband. This is a rule given by God for the good of all people. Keeping to this rule has many positive results (including strengthening families and creating relationships full of trust) but breaking it has many negative results (including heartbreak, sadness, deceit and separation between people).
As you will no doubt agree, holding these longstanding doctrinal views is a very different thing from being homophobic.
As I have explained, as a Christian I would be happy to provide goods and services to people irrespective of sexual orientation. However, what I cannot do is provide goods and services in a way that would promote or assist extra-marital sexual practice – to do so would be to act contrary to my firm belief in the Bible’s teaching. So, while I would willingly provide services to homosexuals in a café, provide goods to homosexuals in a bookshop and provide education to homosexuals in a school, I could not publish a leaflet advertising a Gay Pride march, I could not design a website for same-sex dating and I could not promote homosexuality to children in school. As a law abiding citizen, I find it very worrying that unless the Government’s approach to the Regulations is changed, the law could be used to make it illegal for me to follow the Bible’s clear teaching and could force me to do these latter three things.
If the Regulations remain unchanged then it would be fair to say that despite the intention for them to eliminate discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, what they will actually be doing is discriminating on the grounds of religion. For this to happen would mean the Equality Act (under which these Regulations are created) had failed. That Act did not intend to promote the rights of one section of society at the expense of discriminating against another section.
I wish to emphasise that it is crucial that I have the freedom to hold and adhere to my faith and beliefs at all times: not just at church on a Sunday. The reality for me as a Christian is that the teaching in the Bible is just as important to my life outside church as it is inside. For example, it is no good allowing a Christian who runs a printing press to go to church on a Sunday and express the Biblical view that all extra-marital sex is sinful, if during the week he is forced by the Sexual Orientation Regulations to print a poster advertising an event which will promote homosexual practice or adultery.
To print either would force him to act against his beliefs – to lose his integrity. Neither should he be forced to lose his job in order to maintain that integrity: it is no answer to this issue to say that the printer can simply resign and do a different job – this also discriminates heavily against Christians and means that they are not free to be employed in the same jobs as other members of society.
The Regulations must provide an exception to allow individuals to refuse to provide goods, services, facilities etc that would otherwise promote or assist the practicing of any sexual orientation in a way that is contrary to the teaching of the Bible (or for that matter, the teaching of the Torah or Koran).
I do wish to emphasise the point that Christians need to be free to follow the Bible’s teaching about sexual morality in their jobs as much as in their private lives.
The Bible draws no distinction between when a Christian is at work and when they are at home: they are commanded to live according to the Bible at all times. It is also important to realise that offering Christians the freedom to live according to the Bible whilst at work would not damage the basic intention of the Regulations.
It will only be in the rarest cases that providing a good or a service to a homosexual will actually promote or assist extra-marital sexual practice. Furthermore, it is only in the few cases where a person refuses to supply goods, services etc based on a sincere belief in a longstanding religion, that the exception could be relied on.
Finally, because non-religious providers of goods and services vastly outnumber religious providers, in these small number of cases where a religious provider did need to refuse to supply their goods or services on the grounds of conscience, the person seeking those goods or services could simply go to a non-religious provider – their freedom of choice in the market place would not suffer.
I urge you to consider these points I have made, in particular the need for exceptions from the Regulations to protect individual Christians, and the minimal impact this would have on the overall intention of the Regulations, and pass on my concerns to your party leadership. In particular, please make representations on my behalf to the two ministers who are in charge of these Regulations: Ruth Kelly and Meg Munn.
How to lobby Ministers
The ministers making the crucial decision on the Sexual Orientation Regulations are
Meg Munn and Ruth Kelly.
Meg Munn can be contacted at: Women and Equality Unit 1 Victoria Street London SW1H 0ET
Phone: 0207 215 5000
Ruth Kelly can be contacted at: Department for Communities and Local Government Eland House Bressenden Place London SW1E 5DU
Phone: 0207 944 4400
Please use the suggestions (above) to help you decide what representations to make to the ministers on this issue.
How to lobby MPs
Visits to the MP’s constituency surgery.
Face to face visits are the most effective way of communicating the strength of feeling that Christians may have about an issue.
Every Christian lives in a constituency which has an MP and every MP has a ‘surgery’ once or twice a week (almost always Fridays and/or Saturdays). Surgeries are meetings which usually last between 20 and 30 minutes and are intended as an opportunity for constituents to raise any issues or concerns they have with their MP.
Many people shy away from the thought of attending an MP’s surgery, but Christians should strongly be encouraged that the very job of an MP is to listen to the views of constituents and represent them in Parliament.
Equally, it is for Christians to stand up for what they believe to be true and not to let unchristian policies and behaviour go unchallenged. We should not be ashamed of confronting MPs in this way. Some Christians are put off by the fear that they will simply have their arguments defeated by a clever MP.
Although it may be that an MP tries to do this, anyone who visits an MP with a genuine issue should put their view across and stand firm based on their principles, even if they may not be able to ‘win’ the argument. This will still be of far more benefit than not putting your views to an MP out of concerns which are probably unfounded.
Also, the assistance and support provided by Christian organisations (including the Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship) should enable people to feel more confident of their arguments.
The following starter information should be helpful in the process of contacting and lobbying your MP.
a) Confirm who your local MP is. The Parliament website’s ‘Constituency Locata’ is a simple way of doing this:
Alternatively, look up the details in your local phone book, or phone the House of Commons switchboard (020 7219 3000) and ask them for the information.
It is important to know who your MP is because it is only your local MP who is allowed to represent your view on an issue in Parliament.
b) See how your MP has voted on issues affecting Christians in the past. You can do this by using the helpful Christian Institute service at http://www.christian.org.uk/mpvotes.php.
A similar helpful service is available from http://theyworkforyou.com/.
Very often, how an MP thinks and votes on an issue is dictated by the ‘Party line’ i.e. what they have been told to do by their central party leadership.
Therefore it may also be worth looking at the websites of the three main parties, as well as newspaper websites, to find out what their policy is on a given issue – this will give you an idea of how easy/difficult it will be to convince your MP and what arguments will be most appropriate.
It is worth mentioning the importance of thanking our MPs when they act in accordance with Christian values, particularly if this is in response to a request that they do so.
c) Find out when your MP’s surgery is held and contact them to arrange a meeting.
From the Parliament website, contact details can be found for all the constituency MPs at http://www.parliament.uk/directories/directories.cfm in order to find out what day of the week their surgery is held, and then make an appointment. Alternatively, phone the Commons switchboard (020 7219 3000) or look at your MP’s website (these can be found by using a search engine like Google).
d) Before going to see an MP: gather as much factual information as possible. Utilise the resources of Christian organisations. Many Christian organisations prepare briefing sheets and lobbying material which can be accessed on the internet or by post. Contact or speak to any Christians you know who are knowledgeable about the area in question.
Writing to MPs This can be done by post, by e-mail, or by fax. Again, gather as much factual information as possible before writing to your MP. Any correspondence with an MP should be factually accurate, present a clear argument, and show consideration of the issues involved.
Christian lobbying organisations will often provide an example letter to give you an idea of the sort of approach to take. However, always try to make letters individual by focussing on the aspects of the issue you personally feel most strongly about. It is especially powerful to include any examples from your own experience if an issue or piece of legislation has affected you, a friend or a family member personally.
The following websites may be of help:
a) The http://www.parliament.uk/directories/directories.cfm site can be used to find the postal and e-mail addresses for MPs in their constituencies. All MPs can be reached in Westminster by addressing hem in the following format: Mr. Smith MP, House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA.
b) MPs can be faxed though www.faxyourmp.com
How to lobby PEERS
Visiting Peers Those Christians who have friends or acquaintances in the House of Lords should arrange to meet with them to explain any Christian issues which will fall to be voted on or considered in the Lords. This is probably the most persuasive and direct way of influencing peers.
Writing to Peers Although members of the House of Lords do not have constituencies as such, they are still based, through where they live, in certain localities. It makes sense to find out who your ‘local’ peer is and then to contact them by writing or by e-mailing, to explain any concerns you have about a piece of legislation or an issue.
Having the link of living close by will be a good starting point for the correspondence.
A list of peers organised by regions can be found at http://www.christianconcernforournation.co.uk/HowTo/listofpeers.php. Unfortunately the list is not wholly accurate (it is sourced from another organisation) but it may be a helpful starting point. Alternatively there is an alphabetical list of members of the House of Lords on the Parliament website at http://www.parliament.uk/directories/house_of_lords_information_office/
you can call the House of Lords directly and ask them for information on 0207 219 3000.
Once you know the name of the relevant peer, further contact details can be found on the Parliament website at http://www.parliament.uk/directories/house_of_lords_information_office/contact.cfm.
This will enable you to write to them directly, or alternatively any letters can be sent to peers at Westminster by posting them to this address:
House of Lords, London, SW1A 0PW
If you want to know how to use the correct title for a peer when writing to them, go to