The appointment of Joel Edwards, general director of the U.K.'s Evangelical Alliance, as a commissioner to the nation's Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has drawn complaints from gay activists.
Formed to enforce legislation guaranteeing age, ethnic, disability, gender, and sexual preference equality, the EHRC brings together the U.K.'s three previous equality commissions. The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which went into effect on January 1, added prohibitions against treating anyone "less favorably than he treats or would treat others" on the grounds of sexual orientation. However, concessions within the act allow religious organizations to define standards of sexual behavior for their members and leaders.
Jay Herrick of the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association was dismayed by the appointment of a conservative Christian to the EHRC. "Joel Edwards leads one of the most homophobic organizations in Britain," Herrick said. "The Evangelical Alliance is an umbrella group that shelters some of the most extreme anti-gay groups and churches in the country. How does the Government imagine that this man can participate in decisions about the rights of gay people in a fair and balanced way when he believes that we are all sinners who should live without sexual expression?"
An EHRC spokesman defended Edwards' appointment as a "faith leader and a senior figure in the black community." In addition, Trevor Phillips, the EHRC chair, has spoken against removing Christianity from public and school life.
"Denying Britain's distinct religious heritage and the celebrations of the Christian calendar can undermine community relations, as people frankly, white people feel that their historic faith is given less credence and attention than minority faiths and that's why it is important," Phillips said. "No one serious wants that."
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BBC 4's Today Programme has featured Edwards's theological reflections in its daily "Thought for the Day."