|PIC1|Protestors, including a large number of Christians, took part in the torch-lit rally outside the House of Lords, shouting "No, No, No SOR" as they urged peers inside to oppose the regulations.
Peers held a one-hour discussion on a motion put forward by Lord Morrow, calling for the Northern Ireland regulations, which came into power on January 1, to be annulled so that they can in turn be amended to protect freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
Earlier in the day, a petition signed by 10,000 concerned Christians was delivered to the Queen.
The huge crowd was joined by the Rev Ian Paisley, who told them, "We're here to say that we're on the Lord's side."
He asked, "Are we really Christians and will we stand up for Jesus?" stressing his personal determination to put God's laws first and man's second.
Rev Paisley dismissed the reassurances from government that the new regulations posed no threat to Christian freedom of conscience.
He warned that legislators would "come down on us as hard as they can. The time to break this is now."
Thomas Cordrey, barrister and Public Policy Analyst with the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship, commented, "The debate in the Lords is a signal to the government of the need to acknowledge that these regulations do not currently strike the correct balance between two competing rights."
He denied that their opposition stemmed from homophobia: "Christians have no desire to discriminate unjustly on the grounds of sexual orientation, but they cannot and must not be forced to actively condone and promote sexual practices which the Bible teaches are wrong. It is a fundamental matter of freedom of conscience."
"We are not asking the impossible of the government. While these regulations will make it illegal for a Christian printer to refuse to print a leaflet advertising a gay pride march, in Canada the Supreme Court of Ontario came to the conclusion that such a printer should not be forced to act in this way. It is possible for these regulations to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, whilst guaranteeing the freedom for religious believers to abide by their faith."
Concerns have been high since the government fast-tracked the regulations in November after a consultation period which breached Cabinet Office requirements by its short duration. Accusations that the government had not given sufficiently careful consideration to the regulations were fuelled when a drafting error in the original regulations meant that a separate amendment regulation had to be laid before parliament only weeks after the original regulations were laid.
The government delayed bringing the legislation into effect in the UK due to the enormous opposition.
A High Court challenge to the procedure the government has used to rush through the regulations in Northern Ireland will take place in March.