They’re making laws for us again

BCN Cover

This originally appeared in BCN issue 78, April 2006


At the end of 2005, Parliament passed the law that would ban discrimination in provision of goods and services on grounds of sexual orientation. Now they’re trying to work out exactly what they meant before it comes into force.

On the surface that’s an easy one – doesn’t it mean what it says on the tin? But there is almost always some wiggle room with a new law, and perhaps just as well. Cases such as the couple denied a hotel room on the grounds that they were a same-sex couple last year will raise the hackles of most BCN readers and produce a fairly universal “of course they shouldn’t have been allowed to turn them away”.

But what about your local gay support group – should that be obliged to allow straight people loudly declaring themselves to be “normal” to attend, as well as the people struggling with issues around their sexual orientation?

It cuts both ways: should religious organisations that formally disapprove of homosexuality (and can’t get their heads round bisexuality) be legally allowed to work in ways which are consistent with their moral values?

Many gay venues have had door policies of only allowing in a proportion of straight people (where that proportion may include 0%) and there have been reports over many years from the bi groups in Manchester that bisexuals weren’t allowed into certain gay clubs in the city, or were allowed in on week nights but not on weekends when trade is busier.

Acknowledging that Sir Humphrey is not the font of all wisdom on such matters, the government’s Women & Equality Unit have issued a consultation paper “Getting Equal” on the matter. It’s available for free either by post or online, and has an extensive series of questions about what they have identified as the key issues.

Also asking questions of the masses, the “Equalities Review Interim Report for Consultation” reveals such “did someone honestly get paid to find that out?” shockers as that bisexual, lesbian and gay people, members of ethnic minorities and women often earn less in their adult lives as a result of prejudice and discrimination.

This does a good job of representing the long-term tide of social change – that decades after sex and race equality legislation things are still changing and that the recent LGB equality measures will not provide an instant remedy to generations of built-up bias. It looks to the ways things will continue to change – as the workforce becomes smaller due to a declining birthrate employers will have to become more open to employing older staff, for example.

Along the way it reveals how much better the evidence base is for some areas of discrimination than others – there is nowhere near as much information on matters of religion and sexuality as there is on race and gender.

A series of public consultation meetings are about to kick off, running from April to June. With the new super-equalities body already recruiting a national executive board, this may be a vital moment to influence the priorities of their work.

More information online at www.theequalitiesreview.org.uk and www.womenandequalityunit.gov.uk

You can order printed copies of the Getting Equal report by calling 0870 1502500 – serial number is URN 06/926

The Equalities Review interim report for consultation can be obtained by calling 020 7276 1200.