Thursday, January 25, 2007

Gay adoption row, what is all the fuss?

If I had a pound for every time someone with either a politically correct chip on their shoulder or some ideological position talked rubbish, I would be a rich man.

We have at the moment a row over new "Equality" laws going through parliament or rather sub regulations etc.

These laws are designed to "end discrimination". There should be no opt outs. yada yada yada.

Well, there is discrimination as a matter of law. For example someone who is 15 can't legally buy cigarettes, someone below 18 can't vote. Someone who is 15 can't marry or enter into a civil partnership and if there is no parental consent they have to wait to 18. If you are over 70 you have to have regular medical check ups in order to be able to drive. Even if you are 95 and have a drivers licence you may find no insurer to insure you. These are all age based discrimination.

We also discriminate on country of origin. If you are not British, you do not have equal rights. You may for example be deported, you don't have the same rights to health care or anything else.

If you are a Roman Catholic, you can't marry the Monarch or indeed any one in line to the succession.

I could go on. In short there are all sorts of ways in which people are discriminated against. Quite a few of them make sense.

The question then becomes "Do we need more anti discrimination laws?"

Well do we? What is the motivation behind this latest set of controversial laws?

Apparently it bans discrimination on religious grounds. Personally if someone has a problem with me being a Roman Catholic I would rather know at the outset rather than finding out later on that my food had been spat in. Some of the more loony fringe of the Baptist and evangelical movement have some very strange ideas about us Catholics and are frankly quite anti Catholic. Legislation wont change that, and I don't want it.

It will also ban people from discriminating on the grounds of sexuality in the provision of goods and services. (As well as religion).

In the year after this ill thought out legislation has been passed there will be all sorts of silly stories about the unintended consequences of this law. For example will a restaurant be discriminating against a Muslim or Jew for not providing a Halal or Kosher meal?

You have to ask what ill this law is supposed to cure. The 1861 protection of the people act is quite clear on what ills it seeks to deal with, and judging by crime figures it is necessary.

So what is the gay adoption row all about then? I seem to get a schizophrenic response.

On the one hand we should not discriminate against gay couples. Well, how many gay couples want advice from a Roman Catholic on adoption? On Usenet I have been quite happy to provide legal advice to gay people but would they want my moral advice? I see no queue at the door.

They can go elsewhere, and indeed Catholic adoption agencies currently pass their details on.

So how big a problem is this really?

Then there is the "welfare of the child" argument. This is also spurious. Firstly happy married heterosexual families are excluded from adoption for all sorts of bizarre reasons, like they are too old, may be unhealthy and so on. If the welfare of the child was a real concern the more silly restrictions on adoption would be lifted. Secondly going through the adoption process is as I understand it more like the Spanish Inquisition than a test of whether you would be a good parent. It is a very draining process for adoptive parents. Now maybe that tests their commitment, certainly the adoption agencies have a duty of care, but maybe it is just a tad harsh.

However, if a child is not placed with a gay couple by a Roman Catholic adoption agency then it can be placed with the same couple by many others. So where is the welfare of the child argument? It is rubbish as well.

You have to ask yourself how equal a society we wish to be. What if, for example I set up an IVF clinic tomorrow, but stated as policy that we would not consider implanting an embryo in a homosexual man. Should that be illegal?

Update 16:43

Apparently the Scottish Executive have given the Catholic church the nod that their will be an exemption in Scotland. So this is an England only law. Hmmm. Divisive devolution.


Chrisco said...

Utter tosh Benedict.

Discrimination by law is designed to protect society as a whole. To be frank, your rather spurious examples of state sanctioned discrimination indicate a profound lack of understanding for the manner in which minorities such as gays come up against discrimination on a daily basis. Unless of course you actually believe that being within your legal rights to discriminate against someone on the grounds of race or sexual orientation is for the betterment of society; if that's what you think then just spit it out.

Do we need more anti-discrimination laws? Yes, because gay men and women are entitled to ride on a bus, take a holiday, or go into a pub of their choosing in the same manner that any black, Jew, or woman is entitled to.

Hoteliers will not be accused of discrimination if they do not serve kosher or halal meals, but they will be liable under the law if they completely refuse to serve me or you on the grounds that they don't like our religion or sexuality, or race, and quite rightly so. Or would you welcome "Whites Only" restaurants?

You say you don't want legislation to prevent you being discriminated against because you are a Catholic. But I find it rather unlikely that (unless you were in certain parts of Northern Ireland) you have ever suffered the humiliation of being refused a room in a hotel, or being denied a couples' holiday, on the basis that you are a Catholic.

How big a problem is this you ask? Very small - only 4% of adoptions go through Catholic agencies, and as you rightly point out, few (but not no) gay couples would opt to go through such an agency.

But does that mean that the Catholic Church should be excluded from abiding by the law of the land? Absolutely not: for the same reasons that it would be absolutely wrong for an adoption agency to be allowed to refuse to place children with mixed-race couples on a point of personal conviction.

So I put three questions to you: is discrimination on the grounds of religion or sexual orientation any more permissible than that on grounds of race?

Should everyone be free to discriminate against whichever minority they have a prejudice against on the basis of personal belief?

And should people's consciences provide them with an opt-out from the law of the land if they are told what to think on a Sunday, rather than arriving at their prejudices by themselves?

tpfkar said...

Thought I'd drop in for a visit Benedict, I was amazed to hear you had a blog after all this time, I'd never guessed!

This is such an emotive issue, I'm not surprised to see two opposing posts so far, each accusing the other of talking rubbish! The question surely is whether an individual's right to express their sexuality should by law override an individual's right to express their religious beliefs where they conflict?

As Benedict says in his article, you can discriminate by age when buying alcohol, by nationality when e.g. applying to joinj the security services, and by political party when choosing a new leader of the Conservative party. (athough only allegedly when it's David Cameron ;) )

However these restrictions are because the means of discrimination are directly relevant to the beliefs/functioning of the organisation in question, and it would be entirely inappropriate for other discrimination to be applied, e.g. on grounds of sexuality.

I'd have thought that was the way forward for a compromise here - if an organisation can show that such a belief is directly relevant to it's beliefs/functioning, this would allow faith groups to decide who uses their private buildings (my main concern is churches losing control over the groups using their own halls, e.g. other faiths who contradict the teaching of the church.) This would also allow small businesses the opportunity to prove that they should be allowed an opt-out (e.g. I know of one Christian grocery chain where the staff are encouraged to meet to look at the Bible for a few minutes each day, but the cranky B&B owner would hjave to show that they were actually trying to promote their faith through their B&B rather than
just discriminating.)

My own belief is that society is not yet at the point where people of faith are derided enough by society for expressing moral views that they should be made equal. I don't accept the argument that faith is a personal choice and that sexual orientation is imbued; people choose how they act in terms of both faith and sexuality, but I see race in a different category as that is entirely about who you are rather than your own choices.

So Chrisco, in answer to your questions: 1) yes 2)no 3)take a long hard look at what people you know believe, talk to them about it, and I think you'll see how and why people form their views themselves.

Benedict White said...

Chrisco, Actualy I asked here:

Well do you? If so, how where and by whom?

On the Catholic discrimination issue I have found some people with very strange ideas. My brother was once in "family" accomodation whilst at university. That is to say he was a student lodging with a family. The couple was having a conversation slating Catholocism (from a hard line Protestant point of view) when it came out that my brother was catholic. Immeadiatly the atmosphere changed , the toilet paper was changed to greaseproof and all sorts of other things. He found alternate accomodation.

So that does crop up from time to time, even in the south east, even if it is rare.

tpfkar, Thanks for the comments.

Chrisco said...

This is not about "whether an individual's right to express their sexuality should by law override an individual's right to express their religious beliefs where they conflict?" It is not about 'expressing your sexuality', it is about being - being gay. Should any institution have the right to discriminate against someone because they don't like the particular minority the belong to - whether it stems from a faith or hatred is irrelevant.

Other faiths have beliefs that clash with the law - child brides and polygamy for example. Should they be exempted from the law of the land because their actions are an expression of their religion? And why should the value system of people of faith give them an exclusion from obeying the law when the conscience of non-believers does not?

I am amazed, and frankly horrified, that someone as seemingly sensible as you tpfkar can believe that it is seemingly more ok to discriminate against gay people than against people on the basis of race. I'm appalled, absolutely appalled - but that is for you and your conscience. Your argument that this is about an expression of sexuality is nonsense, and it is no different from discriminating against someone on the grounds of race.

I put to you again the example of a mixed-race couple - they can't help the fact that one is black and one is white, but it was their choice to get married to each other. Should an adoption agency that disapproves of inter-racial relationships be permitted to discriminate against them? This is not about their race, which is who they are (as you say - being gay is also about who you are, but that is an argument for another day) but about their choices (to use your words).

Should discrimination against them be permitted on the grounds of 'faith'? If the Bible was grounds for opting-out of the law we would have the murder defence of "Not guilty - she was wearing a cardigan of mixed fibres, your Honour..."

Chrisco said...

Yes Benedict. I, for example, have been refused a room for me and my partner at a small hotel.

Benedict White said...

Well Chrisco, if as a matter of law they had to accept your booking, would you want to stay there?

Chrisco said...

Or since he wasn't wanted there, maybe Martin Luther King should have just accepted "Whites Only" restaurants/cinemas/schools and merrily got on with life sticking to his own kind.

Benedict White said...

Chrisco, I think you may be comparing apples to oranges. In America up until the civil rights movement black people were strictly segregated in the South. If you served blacks you couldn't serve whites and if you served whites you not only could not, but most likely did not want to serve blacks.

The discrimination was universal.

I may be wrong, but so far you have mentioned one hotel booking. I presume you have not had problems elsewhere?

If that is not the case, please let me know. If it is the case, then this is one mighty sledge hammer to crack one fairly small nut.

Alasdair said...

Benedict White invited me to post my thoughts on this issue here, and now that it seems to have provoked some discussion, I'm happy to do so. After reading a bit more about the situation, here's what I think:

1) Firstly, I agree with whoever made the point that legal exemptions cannot (or, should not) be made for religious organisations, purely because of their beliefs. There is no obvious justification for such loopholes: either the law applies to everybody, or no one. In this case, then, the issue for me is not whether the law should apply to Catholic/CofE adoption agencies (it certainly should). The issue is whether the law should exist at all.

2) The next question then is 'does the govt have the right to intervene in the actions of private adoption agencies'? Some say no - that this is a matter of conscience. But IMO, it goes beyond that; these decisions (about who can adopt) are not just philosophical disputes, they have a real effect on people's lives. Furthermore, the agencies in question are partially funded with public money. This for me is the key point - if the govt is funding an organisation, then it has the right to make demands on how that money should be spent. Here, they have the right to tell adoption agencies to accept gay couples.

3) Third question: is the anti-discrimination law a good idea in the first place? I say yes, although it isn't entirely clear-cut. Some Catholic adoption agencies have threatened close down rather than comply with the regulations, thus they could do 'more harm than good'. But that may just be bold talk; they may choose to comply in the end, feeling that it is worth compromising their beliefs to stay open and keep helping children. And even if they do not, they only make up 4% of UK adoption providers in the first place. The loss of provision would not be a huge one, and might be made up for by the number of gay couples who could no longer be prevented from adopting in those agencies remaining open.

I still believe that discrimination on grounds of sexuality is wrong - and I think chrisco's comparison with race is enlightening. A 'white-only' adoption agency, that would only give children to white families, would surely provoke an uproar and be refused government funding. We should not draw any distinction here.

Lastly: BenedictWhite has argued that the dispute is 'using a sledgehammer to crack a nut', and not worth provoking a showdown with the churches over (not to mention dividing the Cabinet). Again, I would disagree. Yes, there has been plenty of opposition: but that in itself does not make it a bad law, and in any case I have reason to think the opponents of this one are in the minority. (That's not to say their views don't matter, but I think most people would disagree with them.) Sometimes it is right for the govt to take controversial decisions, and I believe this is one such case. I believe they are in the right, and they should be bold and proceed with the law without allowing any exemptions.

Ultimately, given the way society seems to be heading, a showdown with the churches on an issue like this one was inevitable. It's probably better then to get it over with sooner rather than later, so we can resolve the issue and move on to what even I recognise are more important topics.

Thanks for reading, and sorry if this post was a little long!

Benedict White said...

Alasdair, Just to clarify something, many adoption agencies seem to think that White folks can't adopt black children.

Is that discrimination?

tpfkar said...

Thanks for your earlier response Chrisco. I was doing my best to use as unemotive language as I could, but to be told that you were 'amazed, frankly horrified and appalled' by my post shows how hard it is to keep this discussion from getting personal.

I think that we are simply on different sides on this as a matter of principle, and while it's worth having the discussion, the point is more in understanding the other's viewpoint rather than changing opinions - I can't think of anyone I know who has changed their views either way on this.

I actually agree with much of what you say in terms of fighting hatred and homophobia, however where we diverge is where you start talking about people 'not liking a particular minority.'

My concern over these regulations is nothing to do with wanting to target any minorities, but in protecting people's rights to practice an associated moral teaching that comes with faith, even if it includes some currently unfashionable views on sexuality. It's far more about freedom of speech and of religious expression for me. (In fact, as I said earlier my main concern is churches being forced to hire halls out to groups with contradictory teaching.)

You raise interesting examples of polygamy and child brides. (and I'm also reminded of some concerns over whether some methods of preparing Halal meat are too cruel to the animals involved.) In these cases, the judgement has been made that these practices are contradictory to British values, and the law is brought to bear to those who carry them out. We seem to be approaching this point with sexuality under these proposed regulations, and it is no surprise that there is such an angry response on both sides.

I'm afraid I don't buy the race comparison - it's not just about identity, it's about practice. It's a shame that Christians are seen critising homosexuality in the media far more than they are tackling promiscuity, but if they feel they have to do either they should be doing both-hence the feeling of homosexuals that they are being persecuted against when there are plenty of others (including I readily admit many Christians) whose own sexual practices are far from what I believe God has laid down through the Bible. My understanding is that sins are always actions, not people.

Once upon a time, homosexual activity in this country was illegal. I am glad that it is no longer, I fully support and respect the rights of individuals, including civil partnerships, but for people to lose the right to be able to maintain their beliefs on this issue is too far in the other direction.

You might be interested to hear that I live with a gay couple, and we get on great. I can talk about my faith, they know they can talk about their lifestyle together, and while we come at it from different sides it doesn't cause any difficulties because we respect each other.

Let me finish by putting this in perspective - I believe Christians of all denominations talk about sexuality far too much. I try to do so very rarely myself, as I have little to add to what is being said already. But mopre importantly my own faith does not revolve around sexuality, it revolves around the person of jesus, who I believe was God come to earth as man, who took the punishment I deserved for all the sins I have done. I don't believe that sexual sin is greater than any other (although its emotional consequences often are) and Christians aren't people who don't sin at all, they are people who try not to, and know that there is real forgiveness when they do. So it does sadden me to see Christians constantly portrayed as people whose main concern is tackling homosexuality - it's certainly not central to my faith.

Chrisco said...

tpfkar - I welcome your post, which was of the considered nature I have come to respect you for. I fully understand the viewpoint, but utterly reject the idea that discrimination against gay men and women is somehow of a lesser order to other forms of discrimination.

We are clearly never going to agree on this. but I have to express my fundamental disagreement with one comment - "I'm afraid I don't buy the race comparison - it's not just about identity, it's about practice." Essentially you are saying that there is nothing wrong with being gay, as long as you resign yourself to a celibate and loveless existence.

The irony, of course, is that we are talking hear about gay men and women who are in loving and stable relationships and who wish to welcome into that family unit a child who may otherwise be condemned to a series of institutional and foster homes.

Faith and the bible have, of course, been used in the past as arguments for (as well as against) miscegenation and slavery; it is a fundamental point that religious institutions are not permitted to opt out of the law of the land on the basis of doctrine, for it sets a very dangerous principle. Furthermore I am not sure that many would agree that the government should be according a higher status to one citizen's value system simply because it is based on deism to that of his/her neighbour's, which is not.

Chrisco said...

*that should, of course, have read for slavery and against miscengenation.