The Pope has criticised UK equality laws, including the Equality Bill that is now before parliament. This attack comes ahead of the pontiff’s state visit to Britain, scheduled for September this year.
Pope Benedict is unhappy with the new rights and protections afforded to women and LGBT people. He objects to the fact that religious institutions can no longer lawfully discriminate at will on grounds of gender and sexual orientation.
The Pope’s criticism that British equality legislation “violates the natural law” is a coded attack on the legal rights granted to women and gay people. It is a de facto defence of faith-based discrimination.
His ill-informed claim that our equality laws undermine religious freedom suggests that he supports the right of faith organisations to discriminate in accordance with their ethos. He seems to be defending discrimination by religious institutions and demanding that they should be above the law.
This outburst signals that Benedict is likely to make highly partisan political criticisms during his visit to the UK in September. Most British people will not welcome a meddlesome pontiff who opposes our equality laws.
They will especially resent that the UK government is asking taxpayers to cough up roughly £20m to finance his visit. This money would be far better spent on schools and hospitals.
Peter Tatchell is a human rights campaigner. petertatchell.net