Andrew Brown comments on how 8 bishops of the Church of England voted to discriminate against gay employees and defeated the non-discrimination legislation
The government's defeat last night in the House of Lords may prove a pyrrhic victory of the Church of England. Eight serving bishops and Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, voted for the decisive amendment (100) which was carried by five votes. Lord Harries of Pentregarth, the former Bishop of Oxford, voted against. So it seems reasonable to suppose that it would not have been carried without the bishops; and it was proposed by three of them. Although the argument was carried on on a plane of exalted principle, there is no doubt that in practice the fight was about the right of churches and other religious organisations to discriminate against gay employees.
This right already exists; the European Court of justice, prodded by the National Secular society, decided it was too widely drawn. So the government attempted to define the kinds of post to which it could apply. At this point it becomes difficult to believe either side. The government claimed that the new wording changed nothing; the churches said that if it changed nothing, it was unnecessary.
There was also a hysterical and completely untrue campaign to the effect that the legislation would prevent Catholics from keeping an all-male priesthood, and similar things. That was never the case. The argument is about the ability of religious bodies to discriminate among their lay employees on the basis of their beliefs. In practice, it seems to be entirely about gay people and whether they can sue for wrongful discrimination.
Why do these people get to vote on things that affect all who live in the UK?