MIKE Hancock has removed his name from a Parliamentary petition, after The News revealed it could enable people with religious beliefs to refuse to work with homosexuals, or even serve them in shops.
The Portsmouth South Lib Dem MP signed an early day motion, calling for a greater place for religious liberty and conscientious objection in the workplace.
Although the motion does not specifically refer to gay rights, it does call for Christians and others with religious beliefs to be allowed not to perform duties their faith may oppose.
It praises the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s plan to intervene in court cases where gay rights and Christian beliefs clash.
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell called it ‘shocking’.
He said: ‘It is utterly appalling that the body established to challenge discrimination is now arguing that people of faith ought to have some degree of exemption from the equality laws. It is condoning discrimination by religious adherents. It is endorsing the view that believers should have the right to refuse to provide public services to people whose views or lifestyles they disapprove of, including apparently lesbians and gay men, and presumably also women and people of other faiths or no faith.’
Mr Hancock was one of 14 MPs to sign the motion, entitled Religious Liberty in Public Life, and tabled by Gary Streeter, a Tory MP.
But he said he did so after The News reported on Michael Lyons, a Navy medic who refused to bear arms in Afghanistan, because of ‘moral objections’.
Lyons, who said he did not need to bear arms to fulfil his medical duties, was imprisoned for seven months and dismissed from the navy for refusing to take part in rifle training.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I signed the motion because I remembered his story. I believe strongly that people who have a genuine conscientious objection should be allowed to stand by what they believe, without fear of imprisonment. Mr Lyons shouldn’t be in prison because he wanted to treat people’s injuries, rather than carrying a gun against people he felt he shouldn’t.’
But when The News contacted him about the motion’s other implications, which could include refusal to work at civil partnership ceremonies, or in extreme cases even see people refusing to serve others in shops because of their sexual preference, he withdrew his name.
He said: ‘I hadn’t looked closely enough at all the implications. I do believe, very strongly, that people’s beliefs should be taken into account when they are working, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of people of whatever religion or sexual preference living as equals in our society. I have removed my name from the motion. I’m not sure that was what its author intended, and it’s certainly not what I would want, so I have removed my name. I am not a homophobe, and neither am I someone who forms opinions about people because of their religious beliefs.’