We Must Fight The Church
by heathlander, Wed Jan 24, 2007 at 10:09:00 AM EST
Is discrimination against homosexuals acceptable? That, amazingly, is the question currently being debated in British society. The Equality Act of 2006 (.pdf), which comes into force on April 6th, made discrimination "in the provision of goods, facilities and services" illegal. At the time, Prime Minister Tony Blair - an Anglican whose wife is a Catholic - proposed an exemption for Catholic adoption agencies, on the grounds that, in the words of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales,
"Catholic teaching about the foundations of family life, a teaching shared not only by other Christian Churches but also other faiths, means that Catholic adoption agencies would not be able to recruit and consider homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents."
Blair was supported by Communities Secretary Ruth Kelly, a member of Opus Dei, a secretive cult that bases its teachings on the doctrine of the Catholic Church (a much larger and more prominent cult).
The row can essentially be summed up thus: the law bans discrimination in the provision of goods and services. Catholic dogma, on the other hand, insists on it.
I hesitated when I first read of these supposed "conflicting pressures", thinking there must be some nuance or hidden complexity to the argument that I was missing. If there was, I still can't see it. This is a straight out contest between the rule of law and religious doctrine. In a supposedly democratic, progressive and secular society such as ours, there can only ever be one winner. In Britain, the rule of law reigns supreme and applies to everyone, including those who subscribe to religious cults. As Lord Falconer putit:
"We do take the view in this country that you shouldn't be discriminated against on that basis [of sexual orientation] and think that applies to everybody, whatever your religion."
"We have committed ourselves to anti-discrimination law, on the grounds of sexual orientation, and it is extremely difficult to see how you can be excused from anti-discrimination law on the grounds of religion."
Despite the seemingly obvious answer to the question of 'state vs. church', many people have argued, publicly, in favour of the idea that people should be allowed to discriminate against homosexuals if their religion tells them to. There's a simple way of gauging the validity of their arguments - just substitute the word "black" or "Jew" for the word "homosexual". Discrimination against black people and Jews is far more taboo, evidently, than discrimination against homosexuals, but unless you subscribe to the view that homosexuals are somehow less worthy of equal rights than blacks and Jews, there really is no difference in terms of legitimacy between racism, anti-Semitism and homophobia.
So, when Cardinal O'Connor writes in a letter to the Prime Minister (from which I quoted above), that it would be "unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics" to force Catholic adoption agencies to stop discriminating against homosexuals, he is effectively taking the position that it would be "unreasonable" and "unjust" to force organisations to stop discriminating against black people.
When Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes a letter to Tony Blair expressing the Church of England's solidarity with Catholic homophobia, stating that "[t]he rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation", he is effectively arguing that the law should only apply to those who lack personal convictions, and so for all intents and purposes must cease to exist. If it were my personal conviction that Christianity, as with religion in general, is an extremely dangerous and fanatical cult, and that the foundation of a healthy family should lie in atheism, would the Archbishop support my right to discriminate against Christians? Does he support the right of those who sincerely believe that it is their moral duty to go around murdering people to do so unhindered by the law?
When Lord Mackay of Clashfern, a former Conservative Lord Chancellor, declares,
"Sexual orientation is one thing - that's a tendency towards a particular type of sexual activity but practice is a different thing",
he is referring to standard Catholic dogma, which states that homosexuality is not in itself a sin, but acting upon it is. He should be treated with as much respect as someone who declares openly that, although being Jewish is not in itself wrong, acting Jewish is. Lord Mackay continues:
"They [the harassment provisions outlined in the Sexual Orientation Regulations of 2003] are very difficult to understand but it could well mean that if you teach in a school, particularly in an advanced class, that homosexuality is wrong, you would be guilty of breaching these provisions."
This is, apparently, a negative thing. Presumably, Lord Mackay would also have a problem with a ban on teaching a class of schoolkids that having sex with black people or Jews is wrong.
Imagine if an adoption agency declared that, as a matter of "conscience", it could not consider black couples as fit to adopt a child, because it sincerely believed (for whatever reason) that it is sinful to base a family on the union of two black people. Would we find that acceptable? Would the spokesman for the Prime Minister declare that the PM is seeking a "solution that meets the needs of both sides"? Would the Daily Telegraph publish an editorialin favour of the adoption agency?
Cardinal O'Connor, in his letter, describes the "excellent and highly valuable" service Catholic adoption agencies provide, before warning that the anti-discrimination legislation would force these agencies to close. Such a situation would be, writes O'Connor, a "wholly avoidable" and "unnecessary tragedy". The Daily Telegraph editorial likewise proclaims piously that "the real focus in this controversy should remain on the interests of [the 4000] children [waiting] to be adopted". Dr. Williams employs the same device, writing that "[i]t is vitally important that the interests of vulnerable children are not relegated to suit any political interest."
This is blackmail. What the pro-discrimination lobby is doing is presenting us with a choice between the welfare of thousands of children (which would undoubtedly be adversely effected by the closure of Catholic adoption agencies) and the principle of equality under the law. We must reject with disgust this "sordid" attempt to "try and blackmail Parliament and government by threatening to close down...valuable work in adoption and other areas...using vulnerable groups like children in care to fight [an] ideological battle."
The current religious protests against anti-discrimination laws simply reinforces what last year's gay pride rally in Jerusalem already taught us: that virulent homophobia is one of the few things that can unite the various faiths. The Church is "battling to stop progress" and to "return us to the dark of prejudice and irrationality." We must fight it with all the energy we can muster.
Cross-posted at The Heathlander