UK: One-Minute Briefs - An opportunity to put gay discrimination to rights.

UK: One-Minute Briefs - An opportunity to put gay discrimination to rights. - Employers are unable to refuse a job to someone because of sex, race or disability - but they have the right to refuse a job to someone because he or she is homosexual. This au

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Employers are unable to refuse a job to someone because of sex, race or disability - but they have the right to refuse a job to someone because he or she is homosexual. This autumn, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) will make submissions to the Government advising an urgent overhaul of equal opportunities law. Its submissions will almost certainly include a recommendation to introduce protection against discrimination for the gay and lesbian community.

The times, they are changing, it would seem. Or perhaps not. Despite a two-year struggle by gay rights activists Stonewall to introduce a private member's Sexual Orientation Discrimination Bill, neither major political party has taken up the banner. Baroness Turner has tried three times to introduce such a bill in the House of Lords, most recently on 5 June but Baroness Blackstone, the education and employment minister, spoke against it: 'This Bill invites us to treat same-sex couples as the equivalent of a family unit,' she said, giving the Government view that '(we must) ensure that we do not undermine the family'.

In much of Europe and the southern hemisphere, workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians has been illegal for many years. In May, the US Supreme Court overturned a Colorado state law which prevented local governments from passing anti-discrimination legislation.

At home any anti-discrimination initiatives in the near future will have to be voluntary.

Stonewall is campaigning for employers to pay the same benefits to same-sex partners. It contends that benefits payable to a spouse are part of a salary and to deny those to a same-sex partner is sex discrimination.

The law does not agree, however. In February, the European Court of Justice ruled that employee Lisa Grant could not sue South West Trains for denying her lesbian partner Jill Percey a free travel pass. Sexual orientation discrimination is not the same as sex discrimination, the Court said.

Discriminatory pension schemes also incur Stonewall's wrath. It calculates that 28% of private occupational schemes only pay a widow or a widower.

Public sector pension schemes all exclude gay or lesbian partners, as they insist 'dependants' must be married. Yet this is not a legal requirement.

The Inland Revenue's rules on who can qualify as a dependant were changed in 1996 to encompass 'an unmarried partner, whether of the same or opposite sex'. British Telecom and PowerGen already acknowledge same-sex partners.

If the Government listens to the EOC, new anti-discrimination laws will treat sexual orientation on a par with sex, race and disability in employment law - forcing employers to take it seriously. Says Alan Lakin, legal adviser to the EOC: 'Our legislation is full of anomalies that need to be sorted out. This is an opportunity and we should take it.'.

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