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.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.
Indeed the Church teaches that they must be accepted with respect, compassion and sensitivity.
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.