By Hilary White

LONDON, March 8, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Two amendments to the UK government’s proposed Equalities Bill that would have protected the conscience rights of Catholic adoption agencies and of marriage commissioners, were withdrawn from consideration in the House of Lords on Tuesday last week after accusations of “homophobia.”

Another amendment, to allow churches to conduct homosexual “weddings” was passed late on the same night. It is anticipated by some, including the Anglican bishop of Winchester, that this amendment will lead to churches being forced to perform gay “weddings.”

In the debate following the withdrawal of the first two amendments, which were tabled by Baroness Butler-Sloss, the baroness said, “All sorts of minorities need protection, not only the minorities who are in same-sex relationships.”

“We should be able to accommodate various religions and various cultural beliefs. We are a broadminded society, and the Equality Bill should recognize that too.”

After her amendments were criticized by another member of the Upper House as being “deeply, offensively, homophobic,” Butler-Sloss withdrew them, saying she was “deeply shocked” that they could have been considered so. One of them would have provided an exemption from the Labour government’s 2007 Sexual Orientation Regulations for Catholic adoption agencies, most of which have closed or secularized after being forced to adopt children to homosexual couples.

She said, “It is quite true that nine out of the 12 Catholic agencies in this country continue to act as adoption agencies, but they are no longer connected with the Catholic Church. The absence of discrimination against one group creates discrimination against another group. The balance is not right.”

On the same night, the House of Lords voted to pass an amendment that will allow, but not yet compel, churches to stage homosexual “weddings.” Peers voted 95 to 21 in favor of the amendment to the Equality Bill moved by Labour Peer, Lord Alli. The vote was taken late at night, after an unusual all-day session on the bill, which meant that many members of the House who would have voted against the amendment were not present.

The Anglican Bishop of Bradford, David James, who voted against the amendment, warned of “unintended consequences.”

But before the vote, Lord Waddington, a former Home Secretary and a major voice in defense of Christian religious liberties in the House of Lords, was more forthright: “If this amendment were carried, it would only be a matter of time before it was argued that it was discriminatory for a church incumbent to refuse to allow a civil partnership ceremony to take place when the law allowed it.”

And if legal challenges in the courts failed, Lord Waddington added, “it would not be long before Stonewall [Britain’s leading homosexualist political lobby] was back, demanding repeal of this permissive provision and for a clear duty to be placed on churches to register civil partnerships.

“Is that not the way Stonewall has always worked? And was not Mr. Ben Summerskill of Stonewall hinting just that when recently he said that right now faiths should not be forced to hold civil partnerships although in 10 or 20 years’ time things may change.”

Michael Scott-Joynt, the Anglican Bishop of Winchester, later concurred, saying, “I believe that it will open, not the Church of England, but individual clergy, to charges of discrimination if they solemnize marriages as they all do, but refuse to host civil partnership signings in their churches.

“Unless the Government does something explicit about this, I believe that is the next step.”

As of last week’s session in the House of Lords, the Equality bill, one of Labour’s key pieces of legislation, has passed through the whole Parliamentary process and will likely become law before the upcoming general election.

Meanwhile, religious leaders in Britain continue to warn that the Labour government’s “anti-discrimination” legislation is a serious threat to religious liberties in what is still officially a Christian country.

Lord Carey, the former Anglican archbishop of Canterbury, has decried the government’s efforts to “marginalize” Christians, and called on believers to more robustly defend their faith.

Speaking at an event organized by the Christian Broadcasting Council, Lord Carey said, “It is clear that we must stand up against the marginalizing of faith. We must constantly remind society of its Christian roots and heritage. As I wrote recently, if we behave like doormats, don’t be surprised if we are treated as though we are.”

Despite Britain having a constitutional connection to the Christian religion, Christianity has, in practice, been pushed firmly into the private realm, he said.

“My concern is for Christians, for the churches, for members of other faiths and their attempts to do what any honest believer would by not keeping their faith in some little box, only getting it out at home or with fellow believers.”

British society, he said, is in danger of reaching a point “where Christians, and peoples of other faiths too, find it increasingly difficult to survive in the public service, and, indeed, in Parliament.”