Friday, January 05, 2007

Building religious pressure??

According to some reports various other religious groups are jumping on the bandwagon to derail the Sexual Orientation regulations (see also report here). I must say that this issue is creating very strange bedfellows, where extremist Christians and Muslims find a way of declaring a common purpose, whereas they normally spend their time attacking each other.

We shouldn't be so sure though - media reports create an inflated sense of reality and ought not to be trusted unless coroborrated.

There is a method to all of this. It consists of hyping something up; developing a sense of being persecuted (intolerable burdens being imposed) and your identity being under threat and then getting a 'Daily Mail' bandwagon going.

If successful all sorts of people throw caution to the wind and jump aboard (even otherwise sensible people).

Various recent bandwagons have included the BA Cross affair, the exclusion of Christian Unions from Universities and of the course the Sexual Orientation regulations themselves.

This is intentional - it isn't an accident and it's now the mainstay of conservative cultural politics.

The method seems to be as follows - either exaggerate, be careless with the facts or frankly just make something up (ordinarily this might worry religious believers, but when you are possessed of the Truth itself minor details aren't so important - as journalists often say "yeah, sure the story was poorly sourced and factually incorrect but even though the pictures are fakes the story is essentially true").

Factual truth tends to beget a moderate response - a letter to a minsiter seeking reassurances, questions in Parliament and so on. If you want your followers to go nuts you need to scare people about the imminent end of civilisation.

Exaggerated claims (or lies) generate panic, anxiety and fanaticism. Always have, always will. That's why people use this tactic - it works. You need a panic stations approach to get the sort of massive response that MP's and ministers are getting at the moment.

One example is the very early story that, according to the Church of England, the sexual orientation regulations will oblige churches to bless Civil Partnerships. This was never true in any sense i.e. the regulations were never going to require this and the Church of England never said it. And yet it still gets thrown in to Daily Mail news stories - they never correct the errors.

When 'exaggerations' start acting as the 'carrier' of the story no amount of denial or clarification will work. Because it's not an honest mistake but a 'message' that's part of a strategy at work.

It worked with the BA Cross 'affair' because BA was quite vulnerable to the actions of Dail Mail readers. It may have less success with the Government as the Daily Mail issues cast quantities of such exaggerations and the world of a Daily Mail reader is a very dark and sombre one where the sexual orientation regulations are the least of people's problems. It isn't going to hit the Government that hard because it only replaces a similar news story about immigration, Council Tax, deaths in hospitals and so on, and so on (reading the Daily Mail for a week is most instructive).

Also because MP's are (hopefully) much better informed and have access to accurate information in the form of written questions and open debate which tends to dissipate the worst of such myths.

The only way to defeat this is by fisking - for a definition see here, see also this site devoted to fisking.

An ideal candidate for fisking is anything on the websites of the Christian Institute or Lawyers Christian Fellowship - particularly on this topic, which consist of a catalogue of errors an example can be seen here

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Massachusetts same sex marriage decision

News today (also here) that the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention (comprising both Houses of the Legislature) have voted on the constitutional amendment to prevent same sex marriage.

Currently Massachusetts is the only US state to allow same sex couples to marry, following a Court decision (4-3) in 2003.

Since then there have been various and numerous attempts to reverse this decision and a heck of a lot of arguing in Court - the latest because instead of voting on the merits of the amendment the legislature voted to recess its constitutional convention without voting (the measure only needs a 25% vote of each chamber to progress as it is a referendum process).

After cristicism from the State Supreme Court, they voted yesterday 131 against and 62 in favour, thus allowing the measure to progress, provided that they get enough votes next time round (2007). The amendment would then be put to the vote in the election in 2008 - should add a bit of zing to the presidential elections.

Currently the polls indicate a majority against this amendment and 2/3 of the legislators voted against it as well as being opposed by the newly elected Governor, so it's all to play for.

If defeated this would considerably up-end the rhetoric of the religious right (which underpins attempts to get a Federal Marriage Amendment - probably doomed in any case, given the Republican losses in Congress) on 'activist judges', given that already in Massachusetts the legislature has a solid majority in favour of marriage equality.

For more coverage see GLAD , MassEquality , Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

European Court ruling

Not recent but have just located the link to the European Court hearing on two cohabiting sisters.

An interesting case which has hit the UK media see also here.

The Court ruled narrowly in favour of the Government but the case may proceed to the full European Court for a final hearing.

In essence it seems to be that since Civil Partnerships were introduced for same sex couples it is in some way discriminatory not to extend protections to everyone including unmarried straight couples and co-habiting siblings and other relatives.

It's a bit confusing because prior to Civil Partnership there was a big hue and cry over the need to reserve certain benefits to 'marriage' but since gay people got in on the act you need to dilute it as much as possible to prevent same sex couples feeling they are being equated to marriage.

Well it's confusing, because although the logic is decidedly iffy (especially as the Daily Mail reporting of it has a distinctly homophobic edge to it, as though Civil Partnerships created the problem), there is a very strong case for ensuring protections are available to de facto couples (common law spouses etc) as well as various other combinations - especially as regards the disposal of property, inheristance tax and so on.

The reason (so far as I can see) for the Government reforming family law in bits at a time is simply to try to avoid a massive mobilisation by the religious right about diluting marriage and so on. At the moment those voices are tending to argue that siblings who share a house should be protected.

This is a good development, though it certainly does tend to undermine the traditional view of marriage and recognising that non-married partners as well as friends and relatives may share their lives and/or property with someone and that should be recognised by the State.

Of course there is always the danger of tax avoidance, especially in the case of inheritance tax. I'm not sure I'd be in favour of certain people being able to make a declaration about living in the same property and then avoiding paying taxes, whereas others wouldn't - that wouldn't be fair, but it's certainly something the Government should look into.

If the ECHR develops its thinking any further they may have little choice and the media coverage tends to suggest that there is a broader support for all cohabiting couples including (genuine) cohabiting siblings.

For information on Law Commission proposals relating to cohabitation see here and on the Law Commission consultation website.

Monday, January 01, 2007

NI Regulations enter into force today

In spite of recent controversy amongst Christian groups, attempted legal action and a debate in the Northern Ireland Transitional Assembly the Government has not withdrawn the regulations and they now enter into force.

There are however still a few challenges ahead.

On the 9th January a motion will be presented in the House of Lords to annull the regulations (they can be annulled by Parliament up until the 20th January) and on the 10th January a committee of the House of Commons will be formed to examine the regulations in detail.

The final challenge is the High Court Judicial Review planned for the 1st and 2nd March.

This is most unlikely to strike down the regulations (had this been their aim they would doubtless have delayed their entry into operation until April as initially requested by the Christians' lawsuit) - notably the Government is only doing in the regulations what is contained in the Equality Act 2006, given Royal Assent in February.

A key issue before the Court will be to stabilise the interpretation of the regulations. Currently there are some wild hypotheses and theories about what would contravene the regs which are a little far fetched, but as the High Court sets a precedent it would formally lay down the interpretation of the regulations, probably endorsing the Government's already stated interpretation.

In any case the Human Rights Act takes precedence over secondary legislation and allows the Courts to either reinterpret legislation in acordance with the HRA or to strike down incompatible provisions.