After all the public debate about the possible application of the new Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations, they finally came into effect at the end of April.
Essentially, the act makes it unlawful to discriminate in the provision of goods, facilities or services on the grounds of sexual orientation. It also provides parallel protection on the grounds of a person's religion or beliefs.
It is not immediately clear what impact this legislation will have on charities. For example, there is an exemption in the regulations for charities that provide services exclusively to lesbian, gay and bisexual people. Religious groups are also exempt from providing goods and services when it would go against their doctrine and might conflict with strongly held convictions of a significant number of their followers.
Religious groups may, therefore, be able to refuse to provide goods, facilities or services to lesbian, gay and bisexual people.
There are more than 22,000 charities with religious purposes or objects that are registered with the Charity Commission. For some of these charities, the new regulations will have little or no impact, and their facilities, goods and services will be available to everyone. However, others will need to consider whether there are legitimate doctrinal reasons or strongly held religious convictions held by a significant number of followers that exempt them from the regulations.
The Commission for Equality and Human Rights, which becomes operational this October, will be responsible for equality regulation. One of its tasks will be to provide definitive advice on the application of the new legislation.
- Rosie Chapman is executive director of policy and effectiveness at the commission.