Thursday, January 25, 2007

A victory for equality in Britain

Earlier in the month, Britain's House of Lords passed the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (Northern Ireland), forbidding discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in Northern Ireland. This week, the UK cabinet has been wrestling with a similar provision for the rest of the UK. The Catholic Church - backed by the Prime Minister and Equality Minister Ruth Kelly - wanted a special exemption for Catholic Adoption Agencies to allow them to continue to turn away gay couples as adoptive parents. Today, their proposal was rejected by cabinet. And so it should have been - these agencies receive public money to operate a public service. To allow them to use this money in a bigoted manner would be simply intolerable in a modern, secular society. As Polly Toynbee said earlier,

public services paid for out of general taxes can't be held to ransom by the weird sexual fantasies of unelected service providers

The debate is now about how long they will have to either accept the law or close down. But despite the latter being threatened by church authorities, it is not much of a threat - Catholic agencies handle a mere 4% of adoptions, and it seems likely that many will simply secularise and continue their work, rather than close their doors. Meanwhile, the British churches have once again exposed themselves as havens of homophobic bigots (the Archbishop of Canterbury's betrayal here is particularly nauseating). Is it any wonder that most UKanians now think they're toxic?

As for Ruth Kelly, she has shown conclusively through her advocacy for bigotry that her private religious beliefs are incompatible with her duties as Minister for Equality. She should resign.


Yes, Rowan Williams' public position is extremely disappointing. I suspect that this is more a matter of Church politics than personal conviction. This doesn't make it any better.

Posted by Michael Wood : 1/25/2007 05:18:00 PM

So to clarify - are you in favour of this ban on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation for private individuals & charities - or only for those receiving taxpayer's money?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 1/25/2007 09:43:00 PM

So if a faithful Catholic can not be a Minister for Equality in your judgement, are we allowed to be Ministers or MP's at all?

Are there any other public jobs you would ban us from holding?

I'm just wondering if I'm going to have to wear a little cloth crucifix stiched to my clothes you see. Should I prepare to be herded into a ghetto so that my terrible bigotry isn't unleashed onto the innocent wider secular world? Perhaps it would be best for secular adoption agencies to make sure they never place children with homophobes like me.

Posted by Muerk : 1/26/2007 01:38:00 AM

Duncan: As I've said before on many occassions, I Am Not A Libertarian. I am interested in substantive freedom, not merely the formal procedural freedom of libertarians, and I want it to be freedom for all, not just the rich and powerful. I therefore support legislation barring discrimination in the public sphere (including the marketplace) as a means of protecting the freedom and autonomy of individuals against the depredations of others. Barring discrimination by government is not enough. Not only does it fail to adequetely protect human freedom - the wrong lies in the act, not in who is doing it. Any reason to bar discrimination by the government is thus also a reason to bar it when it is done by individuals.

Of course, as a Libertarian, I don't expect you to care about any of the above. But this case at least ought to be one we can agree on. A church wants an exemption from the law so it can discriminate with public money. They shouldn't be receiving it.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/26/2007 02:32:00 AM

Muerk: There are plenty of liberal Catholics around, so the problem with Kelly isn't so much her religion as the bigotry she cloaks in it, and the fact that she has shown conclusively that she is unable to put her private beliefs aside and do her job properly. I have no doubt that her views are sincere, but one of the roles of Minister for Equality is to advocate for equality and an end to discrimination. Having a proven bigot in the position is as inappropriate as appointing an anti-semite as Minister of Race Relations.

Being a Catholic is no bar to being an MP or Minister. Nor is being a bigot, except insofar as it may reduce the chances of election.

Peasant: tolerance for people's religious views does not entail respecting them, and it is not a blank cheque for bigotry. Ruth Kelly can believe what she wants. But if her personal beliefs prevent her from properly performing her job, then she should admit the fact and resign.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/26/2007 02:52:00 AM

Michael: it seems to be entirely a matter of church politics - which puts the Archbishop in the same box as Don Brash: someone who knows better, but will sell out his daily beliefs (and in this case, his friends) for political advantage.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/26/2007 02:57:00 AM

Why its OK to exclude people access on the basis of being, say, an anti-semite but its not ok to exclude that access because they believe in the great sky fairy is beyond me. The government in a secular democracy decides how public money will be spent, not those who choose to seek guidance in magic and mumbo jumbo.

Posted by Sanctuary : 1/26/2007 08:54:00 AM

Yes, we're agreed that the Church shouldn't be getting an exemption - in fact, the Church shouldn't be getting taxpayers money at all.

But tell me ... from a legal perspective, how do you distinguish between desirable discrimination and undesirable discrimination?

Or are you saying that all forms of discrimination - i.e. distinguishing between individuals - is bad?

Should a bank be able to refuse to deal with a convicted fraudster?

How about if I owned a gunstore - should I be able to refuse to sell to members of a violent religious sect?

Maybe if I owned a taxi - should I be forced to carry someone carrying alcohol, even though it violates my religious principles?

Ultimately, anti-discrimination laws are simply a means of foisting your value judgements on others, instead of leaving them free to use their own, in the hopes of preventing clearly wrong decisions (such as discrimination on the basis of race or sexual orientation).

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 1/26/2007 10:37:00 AM

"There are plenty of liberal Catholics around, so the problem with Kelly isn't so much her religion as the bigotry she cloaks in it"

This is why I used the term "faithful Catholic" because I was meaning to specifiy those who adhere faithfully to Catholic teaching on the issues of sex outside marriage, marriage being man+woman, abortion, euthanasia and contraception.

You _know_ me. You know that I was once in favor of contraception and homosexual relationships/sex and sex outside of marriage.

Yet my conversion has changed my opinion. Not because I am 'phobic' of gay sex or gay people, but because I have rationally accepted Catholic teaching because of my faith in Jesus Christ. You know I'm not cloaking some deepseated bigotry or fear about gay sex in religious fervor. So how do you explain me?

Posted by Muerk : 1/26/2007 12:30:00 PM

Kelly is a member of Opus Die, Franco's religious confessors. Hardly advocates for equal rights or freedom. She supposedly heads up a secular based education system.

I think the support that she and Blair have for "faith based" schools will have one of the more profound and long term impacts on British society.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/26/2007 03:56:00 PM

To recap: The UK government has pending legislation which would make it illegal to discriminate against gays in the provision of goods and services.

Some adoption agencies want to continue to discriminate against gays (via refusing gay couples as prospective parents).

Thus the adoption agencies' behaviour will shortly be illegal. Either they can choose to stop their behaviour (close down), or change their behaviour (allow gay couples to adopt).

The only way this outcome is problematic is if you want to retain the right to discriminate against gays.
Thus to rebut Muerk's point, the Minister of Equality shouldn't really be someone who wants to retain the right to discriminate against gays. Kelly's faith is no-one's business, her homophobia is.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/26/2007 04:12:00 PM


Opus Dei! (btw was that a typo or a pun?) Oh no, quick, the albino monks will be after you now. Oh brother... Next you'll be mentioning the discipline and their attempt to get OD members into high positions in society. Go on we all know they're more powerful than the Illuminati.

Democratic government can indeed choose to give gay sex/partnerships the same legal status as heterosexual sex/marriage, but disagreeing with that does not make one a "homophobe" at least as far as I understand the term

I'd like to know though just what your definition of homophobia actually is? Same for Idiot. Because I take homophobia to mean an irrational fear of homosexual sex and/or the people who practice that.

Posted by Muerk : 1/26/2007 07:58:00 PM


News of Kelly being an OD member is old.

I have not made the claims you have about OD. However, they are an evangelical and secretive sect. Their support for Franco was well documented and they were feared in Spain during his rule. They are in a position of influence in the RC church today due to their bailing out of the Vatican bank in the 1980s.

I am not sure how Kelly and her colleagues can reconcile membership of that sect with being in the Labour party.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/29/2007 09:12:00 AM

I realise she's a member of Opus Dei. I just disagree that it's a "sect" or secretive. And so what if it's evangelical, that's not something that's a crime.

Posted by Muerk : 1/29/2007 12:08:00 PM