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Equality Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:39 am on 9th June 2009.

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William Fittall: I was really disappointed with the statement made by the Equality and Human Rights Commission for Scotland after the careful and finely balanced debate that the General Assembly had a couple of weeks back. The commission said:

“The values of fairness, equality, dignity and respect are of more worth than those of ignorance and intolerance.”

Well, that is a point of view, but there is a danger of polarising the two views. Lots of Churches are agonising over the issue. We saw in the Church of Scotland debate how it was agonising over whether it could move forward. It held two debates, one of which allowed the minister to take up his post in Aberdeen. Two days later, it called a moratorium on ordaining people in gay relationships and set up a commission.

The Church of Scotland is struggling with the issue. The Church of England is struggling with it; we see that clearly. The Anglican communion is struggling with it. Some Churches struggle with it less because they have clear views one way or the other. Our contention is that, whatever our particular position on the spectrum, such things must be worked out within the particular faith tradition.

Of course, we should not be allowed to discriminate, as you would see it, in relation to backroom jobs. The Government recognise that there is a sort of front-of-house role to assist the observation of “liturgical and ritualistic practices”—not a phrase that we would have come up with had we drafted the Bill—and promoting and explaining the doctrine of the religion.

The provision has been drafted narrowly and it creates some anomalies, too. It draws the line in a very strange place. It could enable discrimination against organists, but not youth workers. We need some discussion about that, as the Bill moves forward.