5 Jun 2007

Christian Groups legally challenge Sexual Orientation Regulations

Churches went to the High Court in Belfast on 4th June 2007 to argue that the Sexual Orientation Regulations restrict their human rights. If they are successful, the regulations that protect gay rights could be declared unlawful. The case, which has been brought by The Christian Institute along with other Christian groups, is scheduled to last three days. Colin Hart, Director of The Christian Institute, said: "I believe these regulations discriminate against Christians on the basis of their religious beliefs on sexual ethics. "They were introduced under direct-rule powers by Peter Hain without proper consultation. "We have the support of both sides of the religious community in Northern Ireland. People are particularly concerned about the regulations' impact on schools." He added: "We hope our legal action will be successful and that these regulations will be declared unlawful."
The sexual orientation regulations (SORs) prevent the LGBT community from being discriminated against by people who provide goods and services. For example, it is now illegal in Northern Ireland for a doctor to turn away a gay patient, or for a hotel to refuse a bed to a same-sex couple. If the regulations in Northern Ireland are found to be unlawful, it could have consequences for the similar British regulations. However, a recent YouGov poll commissioned by Stonewall found that 85% of Britons support the 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations.

Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church in Ireland has voted to adopt a new policy on homosexuals at its general assembly. Whilst it does not change the church's theological stance - that homosexuality is wrong - the recommednations of a report urges more understanding for gay parishioners in pastoral care. The church's congregations are encouraged to create an environment of love, acceptance, patience and forgiveness and develop a space where sexuality can be discussed.

Reverend Bobby Liddle, convenor of the group which drew up the guidelines, said that the church was a conservative one, but that it wanted to show its concern for people struggling with their sexuality. On Monday, the church's new moderator, Dr John Finlay, however, implied it would be difficult for sexually active gays to remain within the Presbyterian fold. Dr Finlay 61, minister of Harryville Presbyterian Church in Ballymena, took over the role for the next 12 months in succession to David Clarke. He is reported as saying "If someone was an overtly practising homosexual, and our church condemns that as contrary to scripture, that would be difficult as far as church discipline is concerned,". The Presbyterian Church in Ireland has about 300,000 members in over 560 congregations and is the largest Protestant denomination in Northern Ireland.

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