By Ian Dunt
The government's far-reaching equality bill is homophobic, a leading gay right activists has said.
The comments, which come just a week after Labour and the Tories were locked in an increasingly bitter war of words over which party was most supportive of gay rights.
Peter Tatchell, of gay rights group OutRage!, lambasted the government for excluding homosexuals from the anti-harassment clauses of the equality bill.
"This legislation was supposed to harmonise and standardise all equality laws, so that everyone has the same rights and protection," he said.
"Sadly, it enshrines in law discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
"The so-called equality bill denies protection against homophobic harassment by school authorities, by the owners and managers of properties and by the providers of services," he continued.
"Such harassment is outlawed on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, race and sex but not on the grounds of sexual orientation.
"This omission gives a green light to homophobes. They won't face sanctions for homophobic harassment under this proposed law."
The clause has divided gay rights groups, with Stonewall, a more mainstream lobby group with close ties to the government, accepted the exclusion.
Mr Tatchell derided the group for that decision today.
"The leading gay lobby group, Stonewall, supports this discriminatory legislation, claiming that homophobic and transphobic harassment are not significant problems and can be dealt with under existing legislation.
"Stonewall boasts that its stated purpose is to "promote equality," yet it is ignoring the unequal treatment of LGBT people in this bill. This collusion with discrimination reinforces the fear that Stonewall has compromised its political independence and is too closely identified with the Labour government."
Mr Tatchell also criticised the government's decision not to force faith schools to tackle homophobia on campus.
"They will be allowed to teach sex and relationship education in accordance with their own religious values, which often include the idea that gay people are sinners, unnatural, immoral and inferior human beings."
A Government Equalities Office (GEO) spokesperson said: "LGBT people are already protected from harassment at work. Following an extensive consultation, there was no evidence to suggest that extra laws were needed to protect LGBT people from harassment outside work.
"The equality bill is good news for gay people. It will give them even more rights by placing a duty on public bodies to think about the needs of LGBT people working in the public sector or using their services."
The equality bill consolidates all of the government's previous equality legislation in one place, but has come in for criticism from both sides.
While Mr Tatchell does not feel it goes far enough, Conservative groups have attacked the bill - brainchild of women's minister Harriet Harman - for forcing forms undergo audits in order to establish the pay gap between men and women.