Christian Activists in Britain Protest New Gay Rights Law

Christian activists were submitting a petition to Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday to protest against a new gay rights law they claim will force them to promote and condone gay sex.

The activists, who say such laws violate Biblical teaching, also planned to hold a candlelit vigil outside Parliament as the upper house, the House of Lords, debated the new law.

The section of the Equality Act 2006 banning businesses from discriminating against gay people in the provision of goods and services came into force in Northern Ireland on Jan. 1, and is scheduled to be introduced in England, Wales and Scotland in April.

In March, Britain's High Court will hear an attempt by a Christian group, the Christian Institute, to overturn the legislation.

Andrea Minichello Williams, a protest organizer, said Tuesday that the petition being submitted to the queen has been signed by 10,000 British Christians and urges the monarch to use her "power and position" to demand that the British government protect the freedom of Christians to live according to the Bible's teaching.

Queen Elizabeth II is the titular head of state in Britain and supreme governor of the Church of England, but she has no binding powers on either front.

"The regulations are a serious affront to the profession of the gospel and to the freedom of religion which this country has cherished for many generations," said a copy of the petition provided to The Associated Press.

"The regulations will force Christians to facilitate and encourage the practice of homosexual relationships and will force them to support the view that homosexual relationships are equivalent in worth and moral standing to heterosexual relationships," it said.

The regulations would mean that organizations such as hotels that refuse to rent rooms to gays and parishes that do not allow their halls to be used for civil unions of gay couples could be prosecuted on discrimination charges. By the same token, gays would not be allowed to bar heterosexual couples from being served in their establishments.

Some black churches have said that pastors and churchgoers would go to jail rather than accept rules that would mean they had to open their meeting halls to gay lobby groups. Catholic adoption agencies have said they fear they may be forced to allow gay couples to adopt.

Last year, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev. Vincent Nichols, accused government ministers of being engaged in an "intense and, at times, aggressive reshaping" of Britain's moral framework.

Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell of the group OutRage! said Tuesday that the demonstration outside Parliament was the result of "scaremongering, lies and hypocrisy."

The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement group said that all reasonable objections against the new law had been answered, and it accused the demonstrators of pursuing a "deeply disturbing" agenda against gay men and women.

Outrage! said the new regulations would "protect lesbian and gay people against discrimination in the same way that the law already prohibits discrimination against women, black people, the disabled and people of faith."