Philip Johnston, in today’s Telegraph, complaining about the new Sexual Orientation Regulations:
Here is an advert from a local newspaper. “Retired couple wanted to look after large country home while owners abroad. Small salary payable. Married quarters available.”
As of yesterday, the potential employer has committed an offence. Under the new EU age discrimination rules, it is unlawful to restrict a job to older people, or to younger for that matter. However, you may be surprised to learn that, under separate legislation, the final sentence of this advert will also soon be illegal because it implies that the applicants should be married, and could, therefore, be considered discriminatory against homosexuals.
The Sexual Orientation Regulations, to be introduced at the EU’s insistence within the next few months by the Equality Act 2006, make it an offence for anyone providing goods, services, facilities, education or public functions to discriminate on the grounds that someone is heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.
Try as I might, I cannot see what goods, services, facilities and so on are referred to in the advertisement. It’s a job advert and, as such, is covered under The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003, which came into force December 1st of that year. That is, if adverts like the one suggested by Mr Johnston were to be a problem, we’d have known about it some time in the last three years.
Furthermore, nowhere could I find online a copy of these regulations that so concern him. I found a consultation document about them, issued in March of this year, which gave examples of the sort of things they might cover — provision of goods and services, as the title suggests, and nothing to do with job adverts — explains the proposed exemptions, and asks people for their comments.
Fiona Walker, Women & Equality Unit, 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET, tel: 0207 215 6696, email: email@example.com
whom the document gives as the main contact, to ask where online I could find these regulations.
They’ve been delayed for various reasons. They’re due to be published shortly, she doesn’t really know when, but she confirms that they’ll on the lines described in the consultation document (i.e. nothing to do with job adverts including ‘married quarters’).
Given that Mr Johnson’s clearly so wildly ill-informed about the nature and scope of the regulations, why on earth should we take seriously the rest of his column, in which he attacks what he thinks might be their consequences? He may well be right, as he discusses the possible alarming implications, when he says
For instance, teachers may fall foul of the law if they do not give homosexuality equal prominence in sex education lessons to heterosexuality
but there’s nothing I can see in the consultation document — which is all we have to go on — that suggests it’s a realistic fear:
3.29 We need also to consider whether teaching in schools should be covered by the Regulations. Requirements are already placed on maintained schools in relation to the subjects that are taught to children at different stages of their education. For example, at Key Stage 4 (taught in maintained schools to pupils aged 14-16 in England and Wales), schools are obliged to provide education in a range of subjects including citizenship, religious education, and sex education, although parents may choose to withdraw their children from religious education and sex education.
3.30 Guidance is provided on what should be taught in these subjects and, to some extent, how that teaching should be delivered. This makes clear that teaching, particularly in subjects such as Personal, Social and Health Education, should meet the needs of all young people whatever their developing sexuality. The guidelines also allow schools to exercise appropriate flexibility to ensure that the subjects they are obliged to teach can be taught in a way that is relevant and appropriate to the school’s ethos and with which the individual teacher feels comfortable. In the context of the new regulations, we intend to use the current statutory and non-statutory framework to ensure that schools in the maintained sector deal appropriately with subjects and situations where sexual orientation is a relevant issue.
3.31 We will also consider whether any special provision needs to be made to enable faith schools in both the maintained and the independent sectors to balance the new obligations that they will have under these regulations with their need to operate in a way that is consistent with their school’s ethos.
That reads — to me, at least — as if they propose to leave things pretty much as they are when it comes to sex education in schools. As I say, he may be right, but he hardly fills me with confidence that he’s particularly well-up on the subject.
He doesn’t, after all, seem even to have read the proposals in the first place.
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