Activists and Prime Minister Tony Blair have hailed the final passing of a law which will protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in the UK.

Gay Right group Stonewall says that it “is delighted” at the House of Lords vote late last night to introduce new protections against discrimination for gay people.

Peers voted by 168 votes to 122 in support of regulations, part of the new Equality Act, which will now be introduced on 30 April. The regulations will make it unlawful to discriminate against lesbian and gay people in the provision of services ranging from healthcare to hotel rooms.

Ben Summerskill, Stonewall chief executive, said that, “We’re delighted that peers have supported equality for lesbian and gay people so decisively.”

Referring to last-minute protests by religious and conservative groups outside Parliament on Wednesday, which aimed to scupper the passing of the laws, Summerskill said that, “The vituperative and well-funded campaign to oppose these much-needed protections reached appalling depths of unpleasantness, as seen in Parliament Square yesterday when small children of six, seven and eight were coerced into waving anti-gay placards. It has been a stark reminder of how much prejudice still exists in Britain and further evidence of the need for these new protections.”

Peter Tatchell of the gay rights group OutRage! described the protest as “a dishonourable protest in support of a dishonourable cause – homophobic discrimination.”

“We look forward to the implementation of the regulations. They will make a real difference to the lives of millions of lesbian and gay people in this country,” said Summerskill.

The Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007 make it unlawful to discriminate in the provision of goods, facilities and services on grounds of sexual orientation. Adoption agencies are exempt from the regulations until December 2008.

Speaking at a dinner held by Stonewall in London on Thursday Prime Minister Tony Blair said that he was “immensely proud” of progress made in granting equal rights to gays and lesbians in the UK.

“..what has happened is that the culture of the country has changed in a definable way as a result of it [pro-gay legislation]. The change in the culture and the civilising effect of it has gone far greater than the gay and lesbian community. …by taking a stand on these issues and by removing prejudice and discrimination, and by enabling people to stand proud as what they are, it has had an impact that I think is far more profound in the way the country thinks about itself,” said Blair.

He added that, “If you allow discrimination to fester, that is a complete rejection of that modernising and civilising notion.”

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