Vicars Could Be Sued for Refusing Gay Blessings

Article excerpt

Byline: STEVE DOUGHTY

VICARS who refuse to bless same sex civil partnerships could be sued under gay rights laws to come into force next year.

The regulations designed to stop shops and businesses discriminating against homosexuals could also be used against priests who insist on following strict religious doctrine, the Church of England claims.

Fears that gay campaigners will target Christian ministers and churches were raised after Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly agreed the rules will go through next April.

It will then become an offence for hotels to refuse to rent a room to a gay couple or for printers to decline orders to produce gay advertising or magazines.

Churches fear they could be forced to make facilities ranging from parish halls to conference centres available for gay pressure groups to hire.

The possibility that ministers and priests could be sued by gay activists is greatest in the Church of England, which has its own powerful gay lobby demanding an end to its ban on actively gay priests.

However, the possibility of action against clerics and religious officials who refuse to conduct a blessing service for civil partnerships would apply equally to all denominations and faiths.

The Church of England warned: ' Ministers could be the subject of challenge over their unwillingness to provide services of blessing following a civil partnership.' The rules are also likely to include clauses outlawing 'harassment' of homosexual customers by businesses.

These will allow homosexuals to sue for injured feelings if they believe their experience in a shop or business has violated their dignity or placed them in a humiliating or offensive environment.

Officials at the Department for Communities and Local Government confirmed yesterday that the Sexual Orientation Regulations would come into force on schedule in April.

Miss Kelly - a devout Roman Catholic who is viewed with deep suspicion by gay lobby groups - had delayed the regulations after objections from the Church of England and other religious organisations. …