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VATICAN CITY (AFP) – The pope's condemnation of Britain's equality legislation seen as friendly to gays does not constitute an "interference" as alleged by his critics, his spokesman said Saturday.


"Serious people will understand immediately that it does not in any way constitute an interference on the part of the church in the social and political dynamics but a brave manifestation of his position to serve the common good," Federico Lombardi said in an editorial on Radio Vatican.

The 82-year-old pontiff Benedict XVI ruffled feathers Monday by saying that although Britain is known for its commitment to "equality of opportunity" the effect "has been to impose unjust limitations on the freedom of religious communities to act in accordance with their beliefs".

"In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded and by which it is guaranteed."

Observers said the pontiff was referring to legislation that took effect on January 1, 2009 preventing adoption agencies -- including Catholic ones -- from discriminating against gay couples.

Gay activists in Britain have called for protests during the pontiff's visit in September.

British human rights campaigner and gay activist Peter Tatchell said the pope's remarks were an attack on the legal rights granted to gay people and women.

The date of the papal trip has not been confirmed but Britain's Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy was quoted last year as saying ministers had drawn up a programme for a papal visit from September 16 to 19.