Thursday, March 17, 2005

But who voted for it?

There's a screaming match going on over at Just Left over Stephen Frank's attempt to gut the Human Rights Act by removing marital status and sexual orientation as prohibited grounds of discrimination. The amendments were contained in Supplementary Order Paper 336, and came in two parts. The first would have repealed sections 21(1)(b), 21(1)(m), and 21(1)(l)(iii), governing marital status, sexual orientation, and family status respectively. The second would have inserted a clause into the Human Rights Act specifically allowing individuals - but not the government - to refuse to provide employment or goods and services on the basis of "specified conduct", meaning

extra-marital sex, extra-marital child bearing, the breach of promises exchanged in marriage, desertion, same sex relationships in the nature of marriage, and homosexual sex

The above covers a whole lot more than gays; just off the top of my head, it would also permit refusing accommodation to unmarried couples or others in "immoral" relationships, denying employment to divorcees, adulterers, or anyone who has ever broken an engagement. It would also allow humiliating questions probing into every aspect of someone's sex life to be imposed as a precondition of employment, tenancy or service - and licence discrimination against those of us who think that there are some things that are simply none of an employer's fucking business. But what's really interesting is what it doesn't permit. While Franks justifies this provision on classical liberal grounds - that people should be free to discriminate however they like - his proposal does not permit discrimination against married people. Neither does it permit gay employers or shopkeepers to discriminate against straights, or adulterers or swingers to discriminate against monogamists. It is only those who don't conform to Franks' prejudices that are singled out.

In other words, what we have here is yet another example of Franks' gross intellectual dishonesty: a licensing of private coercion, but not on a level playing field. They guy isn't even a classical liberal; he's just a bigot in liberal clothing.

But it's not just about Franks, either. While he proposed this licence for prejudice, 30 other MPs voted for it. Here's a list of the guilty parties according to the relevant Hansard Advance:

  • Adams (UF)
  • Alexander (UF)
  • Baldock (UF)
  • Brash (N)
  • Brown (NZF)
  • Carter J (N)
  • Catchpole (NZF)
  • Collins (N)
  • Connell (N)
  • Donnelly (NZF)
  • Eckhoff (ACT)
  • Franks (ACT)
  • Gudgeon (NZF)
  • Jones (NZF)
  • Mark (NZF)
  • McNair (NZF)
  • Newman (ACT)
  • Ogilvy (UF)
  • Paraone (NZF)
  • Perry (NZF)
  • Peters J (NZF)
  • Peters W (NZF)
  • Prebble (ACT)
  • Roy (ACT)
  • Shirley (ACT)
  • Smith M (UF)
  • Smith N (N)
  • Sowry (N)
  • Stewart (NZF)
  • Turner (UF)
  • Woolerton (NZF)

So, the whole of New Zealand First, two-thirds of ACT (including Ken Shirley, who I'd thought of as a relatively decent liberal), three-quarters of United Future (with the honourable exceptions of Peter Dunne and Gordon Copeland), and the moral ultraconservative rump of National (which now seems to include Don Brash) voted for a return to the morality of the 50's. This is something we should all remember come election-time.

As for the issue of the Human Rights Act itself, I've previously addressed it here. Preventing discrimination is vital to protecting human freedom, and every reason for abhorring it on the part of the government is also a reason for opposing it on the part of individuals. Discrimination is either unjust, or aims to coerce, or both - but injustice does not cease to be injustice, or coercion cease to be coercion simply because the perpetrator is a private individual rather than the state. Rather than offering us freedom, classical liberals are offering us a society where those with social or economic power can victimise or coerce those without, and usurp our autonomy in some of the most central decisions of our lives. That is freedom for the pike, and we are as justified in limiting it as we are in limiting the freedom of the strong to impose their will on the weak by physical violence.


[You made a wee mistake, it's 21(1)(l)(iii) not 21(1)(i)(iii).]

I could not provide anything towards a same sex civil union because I believe that to do so would be to accept and promote a sinful behavior. So I wouldn't participate in any way with a same sex civil union because of my beliefs.

Likewise I would be the same for Catholics divorcing and Catholics marrying outside the Church.

I don't think I'm a "pike" though.

So why can't I hold to my beliefs?

Posted by Muerk : 3/18/2005 06:47:00 PM

If the section governing marital status were repealed, people would be free to discriminate against either married or unmarried people. Ditto for the sexual orientation section.

So the most serious part of your complaint is completely unfounded. Gay employers are actually the ones who stand to gain the most from the amendment.

I certainly don't agree with singling out a small subset of behaviour for special attention, as Franks did, but then I'd permit any discrimination based on conduct so the things listed would fall within that anyway.

Adulterers, especially, deserve any and all manner of private sanctions for their behaviour. Why should an employer be forced to hire someone who is a known liar and cheat? Even worse if it involves other people who work at the same company.

Posted by Nigel Kearney : 3/18/2005 08:09:00 PM

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator. Posted by Nigel Kearney : 3/18/2005 08:16:00 PM

Muerk: you can hold to your beliefs; no-one is forcing you to have a same-sex union, or to attend any ceremony for one. What you cannot do, however, is impose those beliefs on others. If you demand the right to believe and live as you wish, and not to be coerced in respect of the most central decisions of your life (such as who you live with and how), then you must also respect that right in others.

Remember, it wasn't that long ago that people routinely refused to employ or serve Catholics

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/19/2005 10:24:00 AM

Nigel: Because those matters are part of the private sphere rather than the public. They are, to be blunt, none of an employer's fucking business. If we are to live our lives and enjoy our autonomy, we require some sphere within which no other can legitimately interfere (or pry); without such protection, freedom would simply become meaningless - and life unbearable - for most people.

The central bargain that makes society possible is that we each "be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself". Hobbes originally applied this only to violence and physical coercion, but it goes beyond that to social coercion too. And while the state cannot regulate who you do and don't invite to parties, it damn well can ensure that people don't abuse their power in the marketplace and in public life to defect from the game.

(As for involving people who work at the same company, there's already an exemption for this, and quite rightly so. There, things can cross out of the private sphere and legitimately be said to affect the interests of others. But if your only interest is in imposing your moral prejudices on other people's lives, I'm sorry, but that's not legitimate.)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/19/2005 10:39:00 AM

Oh, and I've corrected the legal reference. Thanks to Muerk for pointing it out.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/19/2005 10:44:00 AM

I would happily employ anyone who could do the job well. Their personal relationship status or sexuality is nothing to do with me as their employer, I agree with you that it's not my business.

But I don't think I could work at an event I viewed as sinful - say waiting tables at a same sex civil union.

Posted by Muerk : 3/19/2005 05:22:00 PM