Saturday, January 27, 2007

For he loved him as he loved his own soul

Anti-discrimination law is not about protecting people’s feelings. On the contrary; in many ways, anti-discrimination legislation is all about forcing people to behave contrary to their feelings. The law cannot and should not dictate what you think or say, but it can and should dictate what you do as regards your treatment of other people. I cannot agree with everything our own government has done in tackling discrimination, but the principle behind such legislation is very clear.

Prejudice causes people to make decisions about other people on factors other than those attributes most relevant to a given decision, such as their merits, their character, their capacity to perform a given task and so on. Such poor decision-making causes disadvantage to everyone; it causes the most obvious disadvantage to those on the receiving end of prejudice, but everybody else loses out because society fails to take best advantage of each person’s potential.

Prejudice is painfully slow to shift and thankfully, we are yet to develop a really effective brain-washing technique (I am working on this, but promise only to use it for good). The most effective way of changing prejudice is by demonstration. For example, whilst feminism was well established by 1914, it seems unlikely that sexual equality would have moved on quite as far in the twentieth century Britain had the two World Wars not forced a situation on our society where we had to take full advantage of a feminine workforce or else be doomed.

However, even in the face of all the evidence one might ask for, some people cling to prejudice for reasons I have touched on before. Whilst one cannot necessarily extricate this security blanket from a person's sticky fingers, one can and should prevent them from smothering other people with it and damaging the momentum of a positive social change. Thus we have anti-discrimination legislation.

The chief reason the Equality Act 2006 is causing a rumpus is that it outlaws certain forms of discrimination on the grounds of sexuality, as well age, ethnicity, religion and disability. Cardinal Cormac O'Murphy, who is head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales has suggested that this will force them to close their many adoption agencies because they will no longer be able to discriminate against same-sex couples simply on the grounds of sexuality. And naturally, if these adoption agencies close, a great number of children will suffer.

I am afraid I find this particular tack indefensible. To say that the tiny number of gay couples who might think to approach a Catholic adoption agency would pose a problem for them is one thing, but to threaten to shut down, effectively holding the welfare thousands of children to ransom, is cynical beyond belief.

Beyond that, these matters are always difficult for someone without religion to grasp. Naturally, Christians are divided on the issue of homosexuality and I am not about to enter into theological arguments which are really none of my business. However, even in my profound and heathen ignorance, I would argue that there is at least one inconsistency here.

The Catholic Church teaches that homosexual behaviour is wrong, although apparently
The Catholic Church utterly condemns all forms of unjust discrimination, violence, harassment or abuse directed against people who are homosexual.

Indeed the Church teaches that they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
Fair enough. The Catholic Church also teaches against premarital sex and extramarital sex. It also still teaches that the only way out of a valid marriage is death, although if you got married outside a Catholic Church, a previous marriage can be annulled just as if it had never happened. Not all Catholics subscribe to these views absolutely, of course and none of this is necessarily problematic; people make a choice to follow these rules, and I for one have never had any problem being a friend and family member to some of those that do, despite the fact that I, and many others, follow a very different set of rules.

But because difference exists, it would be an enormous problem if Catholic adoption agencies only put children into the care of parents who followed their own rules to the letter. Indeed, my local Catholic Adoption agency, Adoption Yorkshire state on the front page of their website;
We welcome interest from people of any or no religion although we are only able to accept applications from people in Yorkshire, Humberside and Cleveland.
So clearly, they wouldn’t reject a couple because they had lived together before they were married, or a couple that denied the truth of the Bible or even worhipped more than one god. The suitability of individuals and couples as parents is absolutely paramount – and indeed, the vetting process for adoptive parents in the UK is famously gruelling.

It is thus rather difficult for me to imagine why homosexuality - which is surely no worse that worshipping several gods - can render a couple unsuitable as parents by default. Unless of course, a prejudice is not merely a matter of faith, and is to do with daft old ideas about homosexuals being out to corrupt the young, homosexuality being something a person is taught, homosexuals being inherently promiscuous and all that nonsense which the Church has stated that it rejects.

The very nature of anti-discrimination law means that if a law is sound, there should be no exceptions. It does not mean that we disregard sexuality or any other aspect of a person altogether in all conceivable circumstances; sometimes, perhaps it is relevant (there are many obvious examples where age, religion or disability would be relevant to a decision). And it doesn't mean that people must stop believing what they believe.

It only means that exactly the same rules apply to everybody and everybody can expect fair and equal treatment.


Anonymous said...

Just for reference, according to the BBC site:
"The Catholic Church's agencies are said to handle 4%, or about 200, of all adoptions a year. However they handle about a third of those children judged difficult to place."

What I can't understand is, according to a someone from an Catholic adoption agency interviewed on Radio 4, they would have no problems in placing a child with a single gay person, but would have problems with a homosexual couple because of the churches teaching on the family.

Anonymous said...

I think it's this sort of inconsistency, and the illogicality behind it that exposes the real demons. I agree every case should be judged on merit, and I also agree that stringent criteria have to be met, but using a criteria (being gay) that has nothing to do with parenting ability is pure prejudice.
Goldfish, I forgot to include your post in my disability carnival roundup. It was on my list but given my treacle brain it somehow slipped through. Apologies, I enjoyed reading it. I will look forward to the next carnival and be wandering about the blogosphere in a somewhat confused but happy state in the meantime.

fluttertongue said...

Things like this make life very tricky for any person of faith. I spend a lot of time trying to convince people that the collective religions of the world have done a whole lot of good for mankind - indeed most of the activists (bed-based or otherwise) I know base their actions on their beliefs in the power of love (aka God for those of us that way inclined) and thought.

However, when something like this happens it makes me feel ashamed to belong to a Christian institution. Of all the important things in the world Cardinal McCormack could publickly denounce (exploitation, failure to be stewards of the earth, people trafficking are three that immediately spring to mind - there are many more) he decides to denounce the thing that keeps the church alive. Love, in all forms, is a gift. With this double whammy they've single-handedly used a judgement that isn't theirs to give to deny it to adults and children.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. Religion is full of contradictions!

Anonymous said...

I suppose that all we can do is to wait until people of our generation or even younger get into power in the chaholic church (or other churches). I think there is a great difference betweeen the way of thinking of cardinals or the Pope and all these men, who are living in their small male world of the Vatikan and the people they are supposed to represent and to work for. Religion may or may not befull of contradictions, the people dealing with it as their one and only content of life are more likely to be full of contradictions.

The Goldfish said...

Thanks folks. Fluttertongue, yes indeed. Thanks for this comment; I am very aware that not all Christians, or all Catholics in particular feel the same way. And indeed, even many of those who believe that homosexuality is a bad thing feel that there are far more important things to worry about, like the wellfare of children up for adoption.

Anonymous said...

This is a theological issue. Please understand I'm not trying to defend it, only to describe it.

The RC Church has a bug about sexuality going back to St Paul. They conveniently ignore JC, who was totally laid back about the issue.

Anybody practising any sexual sin, which means, if you follow the hard line, anything except unprotected sex between a man and a woman in the missionary position inside a marriage consecrated in a Catholic Church, is denied the sacraments.

The Catholic Church is very sorry for homosexuals, for example, but it regards orientation as a matter of choice. And thus this deviancy is a sin which can only be cancelled by repentance and a firm purpose of amendment, ie not doing it again, or at all.

Similarly, adulterers and people practising contraception have to sit at back of the church and not go up for communion.

They can handle a single homosexual parent because they can assume that s/he is not getting any, so that's all right.

Why the Church has any communicants at all in this day and age is beyond me. Such rules could only be produced and enforced by a bunch of celibates living insulated from real life in the Vatican and bishops' palaces.