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Equality North East

EQUALITY BILL PASSED BY WESTMINSTER

The Equaltity Network are happy to report that the UK Parliament last night passed the Equality Bill. The bill should receive royal assent within a few days and become the Equality Act 2010. Most of it will come into effect by April 2011.

The bill makes a range of improvements to equality law. It mostly ‘levels up’ the law, so that there is the same protection from discrimination on grounds of age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, race, religion and belief, and sexual orientation.

An important change affecting LGBT people is that the positive duty that requires the public sector to actively promote equality will be extended to cover LGBT equality. This new duty will come into effect in April 2011, and it applies to all the public sector, including the NHS, schools, local councils, the police, the Scottish Government, etc.

The bill also, for the first time, bans discrimination by schools on grounds of gender reassignment. It also bans discrimination against people because they are mistakenly thought to be transsexual, or because they are connected with a transsexual person (for example a family member or friend).

The bill slightly extends the definition of gender reassignment, so that transsexual people who do not have medical treatment will be protected from discrimination, so long as they intend to transition, or have transitioned gender.

Unfortunately though, transgender people who do not intend to transition are not protected by the bill (except if the discrimination happens because they were thought to be transsexual).

A further problem with the bill is that, while it bans harassment by providers of goods and services on grounds of age, disability, gender, gender reassignment, and race, it does not ban such harassment on grounds of sexual orientation or religion and belief. And it does not ban gender reassignment harassment by schools. The UK Government say that all such harassment would be a form of discrimination, and so is unlawful anyway. But we remain concerned that the law gives less protection against sexual orientation and gender reassignment harassment. How much of a problem this will be in practice remains to be seen.

Finally, the bill will allow civil partnership ceremonies in England and Wales to be conducted on religious premises. At present there is a ban on civil partnership ceremonies on religious premises, across the UK. Civil partnership and marriage law is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The Equality Network, alongside other organisations in Scotland, is campaigning for full marriage equality. That is, for marriage and civil partnership both to be opened up to couples regardless of their gender. That would allow religious bodies to choose whether to conduct same-sex marriages, and the campaign is supported by religious organisations that want to do that.

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April 8, 2010

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