Saturday, January 27, 2007

Adoption letter in today's Independent

Really interesting letter about faith based adoption agencies, arguing they should be phased out arguing from the perspective of the well being of Lesbian, Gay or Bisexual adoptees.

You can read it here.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Exchange in the House of Commons

During today's business questions ....

John Bercow (Buckingham) (Con): Given that many of us support early, full and undiluted implementation of the sexual orientation regulations, please may we have a statement next week to confirm that the Cabinet majority has asserted itself in favour of that proposition, to be followed by the speediest possible passage of the regulations, so that gay, lesbian and bisexual people can enjoy equality before the law in the provision of goods, services and facilities, which they have been too long denied?

Mr. Straw: That remains a proud commitment of the Government. Without commenting on the current considerations—

John Bercow: Oh go on, Jack.

Mr. Straw: I wondered whether the hon. Gentleman would be able to make just a standing intervention; he cannot.

On the issue of an announcement, I cannot promise that there will be an oral statement, but I shall take full account of what the hon. Gentleman has asked for, as I always do.

See hansard

Contradictions of "conscience"

Good article here in Pink News pointing out some of the contradictions in the "rights of conscience" argument put forwards by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York as well as a report on germane comments by John Reid.

And I do think it needs unpicking because of course freedom of conscience is an important doctrine on which Western democracy is built and forms part of the political landscape of political liberties (freedom of expression, freedom of religion, freedom of association) to protect us from an authoritarian state (or an over bearing church).

Of course it is worth stating that the Church hasn't always believed that the conscience is free and the Roman Catholic Church still isn't totally convinced of that (see an article here in the Guardian on the very point). Notably the Church developed the theology of compulsion evidenced in such atrocities as the Inquisition (nobody expects the Inquisition!), the burning of Michel Servetus in John Calvin's Geneva and the persecution of the Anabaptists - not to mention the (in some countries still ongoing) compulsion of the consciences of LGBT people.

Taking a very simplified overview, talk of freedom of conscience started surfacing in Europe at the time when there was a move away from the principle of each country adopting the religion of the prince (referred to as cujus regio, ejus religio). This obviously resulted in catastrophic persecutions (eg the massacre of French Protestants and persecutions in England, Scotland and Ireland), the legacy of which still scars today.

Freedom of conscience started therefore as a concept that the State didn't have to force people to adopt a religion and didn't have to force people to worship in a certain way and ironically some of the key players were the English Puritains (e.g. John Owen and even Cromwell) who developed the idea all Christians didn't need to agree on everything and most people agreed that burning someone at the stake because they saw the doctrine of the Trinity differently was not a good thing.

Notably the Protestant Reformation introduced the concepts of 'Christian Liberty' and the phrases toleration and freedom of religion came to be used for the first time and it came to be seen that maybe this was the best way for us all to be able to live together peacably. Later picked up by secular voices such as John Locke, Voltaire and Spinoza and in more recent times Bentham and J.S. Mill (good wikipedia sites on all of these).

After the horrors of the second world war the idea that a humane state had limits and that citizens had human rights that needed protecting came to be widely shared.

So (in modern times) the human right of freedom of conscience and religion is described by the European Convention on Human Rights as follows:
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.
  2. Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

Which in my way of interpreting it means everyone can have a religion, have no religion or change religion. The state can't outlaw a religion or try to settle disputes internal to the religious community (and that does of course include some rather - to me at least - odd ideas like 'the sole purpose of sex is procreation' or 'the Bible is a set of laws sent by God').

A limitation on how a religion is manifested is however allowed (most of the rights in the Convention are balanced in some way) by measures prescribed by law that meet the test of being necessary for a number of things including public safety, public order, health, morals and "the protection of the rights and freedoms of others".

And of course a religious view that LGB people are not equal in dignity and rights does lead to a society where their fundamental freedoms are infringed - the broader freedom of living an open life without violence, without fear and without discrimination. And it seems that the reduction of stigma where it is shown how toxic (as opposed to merely the trivial exchange of ideas) discrimination really is for young people for instance that the state has a positive burden to reduce it.

It seems to me that the state may lawfully respect a person having a view about homosexuality being wrong, respect the right of their church conmmunity to hold such a doctrine and make decisions about membership on that basis but to state that publicly funded services and services open to all members of the public should do so without discriminating on any grounds including sexual orientation.

No-one is forcing churches to accept public money or do charitable work - that's not the essence of the religion and that's the point at which equality law should intervene. It seems to me that if the state were to agree to exempt religious adoption agencies but only provide public funding where they serve all communities then we would be interesting territory, because these are (in part at least) publicly funded services and would vanish even if an exemption were allowed, because they are publicly funded (in part at least).

To accept the logic put forward by the Archbishop of Canterbury, any and all acts of discrimination are acceptable whatever the context - including in the public sector. You would not be able to prevent nurses and doctors discriminating because according to the Archbishops "you can't legislate over the conscience of the individual". I'm a GP and my conscience is telling me not to have patients or provide support for patients who may be LGB. My conscience tells me to tell homosexuals to reprent if they come to my surgery with depression or anxiety and the individual conscience is supreme.

Well of course it isn't supreme in the many other countries where homosexuality is still illegal not to mention the countries where the death penalty applies, so far is the reign of 'freedom of conscience' such a universally important thing.

Yes, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said:

“It is imperative to give the strongest support to the defence of homosexual people against violence, bigotry and legal disadvantage..."

In spite of this very little work has been undertaken to deal with the issue of respect of LGB people's freedom of conscience (or indeed in some cases freedom of religion when there are attempts to outlaw same sex ceremonies).

In summary whilst religious folk can always avail themselves of the European Convention on Human Rights under the Human Rights Act, little is done to promote freedom of conscience from the religious sphere - where it gets attacked the most often in today's world.

Petition on Goods and Services

Please feel free to sign the petition on goods and services on the Prime Minister's No 10 website. To date 2,600 have signed which is a good start.

In spite of the good news today this has yet to be officially confirmed and there will be a vociferous campaign against the proposed regulations from the Religious Right.

Here is the link

If you support the regulations make sure your voice is heard!

The petition

Exemptions for religious organisations from the Goods, Services and Facilities regulations, are of great concern and entirely unjust. The use of services, goods and facilities that heterosexuals take for granted, should be allowed to those from the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities; the protections that minorities and religious groups have in law should be granted to the lesbian gay and bisexual communities also; the end of a two-tier system which denies justice in the provision of goods, services and facilities to the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities should be implemented with no further delay and at the earliest point possible throughout the entirety of the UK.

Praise Be (2)

Early indications are that the Government has now recognised that equality law can't provide an exemption to allow rank discrimination to continue merely because a group of people with pointy hats (several of whom represent an organisation which has actively covered up child abuse) try to bully us into it.

So good news if you believe (unlike the official representatives of the "gospel" i.e. good news but if you're gay often ends up being "The Bad News According to ...")in an open tolrant and respectful society.

There are a number of exemptions the Government could have made but none, absolutely none would have been more viscerally and profoundly damaging than this which should never have been considered as an option for that very reason.

The idea of a law which is there to promote more equal treatment gives open permission to the Catholic Church (of all people) to make insinuations about us being a risk to children (which the Anglican Archbisops shamefully colluded with in their letter) would have simply created more inequality and prejudice not less.

The Church (in its various manifestations) needs to take a long hard look at its behaviour and develop a sense of shame at its conduct.

For references to media coverage you can see all of the references on the Thinking Anglicans Blog here.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The true face of the Church

We now see, in the words of the Philip Larkin poem "what's really there, what's really always been there" in the reaction of the RC and Anglican Churches to seeking exemptions based on the fact we are supposedly evil and intrisically disordered.

Such an exemption at this time would be deeply damaging politically and morally.

And of course the fact that Churches who have helped to cover up child abusing clergy have some nerve in lecturing the rest of us about their supposed moral superiority.

Lots of ceverage in the media so no need for links.

However some interesting blog reactions:

Recce Homo
Thinking Anglicans

And an interesting comment piece in todays Times - though I don't necessarily agree with the idea that Ruth Kelly should resign and think she'd have done it by now if she wanted to.

And you can always rely on the Telegraph to do the bidding of the Religious Right - they don't disappoint. No surprise there.

Overall my view is that the Church's campaign (of a price with the earlier lobbying and campaigning) has forced the Government into a position where any degree of compromise would be unconscionable. We'll see.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The view from the US ....

Interesting quote about evangelicals lying with statistics which seems very relevant to the UK scene from Pam's House Blend US LGBT blog (always steamin!):

The real question is not whether evangelicals can clean up their statistical act. The deeper question is whether American evangelicals can learn to live without the alarmism that is so comfortably familiar to them. Evangelicals, by my observation, thrive on fear of impending catastrophe, accelerating decay, apocalyptic crises that demand immediate action (and maybe money). All of that can be energizing and mobilizing. The problem is, it also often distorts, misrepresents, or falsifies what actually happens to be true about reality. And to sacrifice what is actually true for the sake of immediate attention and action is plain wrong. It should be redefined as a very un-evangelical thing to do.
Too true, too true. And of course the US know a thing or two about facing up to an energised religious right we are starting to see in the UK.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hansard, latest developments and LCF ramblings

The link to the House of Commons Committee on Delegated Legislation here scrutinizing the Northern Ireland Sexual Orientation Regulations - here.

The content seems to be a mini rerun of the arguments in the House of Lords debate on the regulations. The committee finally agreed it had considered the regulations by a vote of 15 to 3 with the Conservative Party revealing it had no firmal view on it at all but was leaving it to individual MP's to decide - hardly a sensible way of approaching discrimination issues.

Meanwhile the Pinknews website has this story relating to a reported discussion in the PLP meeting on the matter. Angela Eagle is reported to be saying she can neither confirm nor deny such a report.

You may or may not be acquainted with this turn of phrase - I couldn't possibly comment.......

The formulation the Government is using (so it seems) is ~ as quoted in the Guardian today is as follows:

"The debate around better protection on the basis of sexual orientation has been beset by wild speculation on all sides," she said. "There have been absurd claims, for example, that ministers of religion will be forced to bless same-sex couples. Equally there is no question of preferential treatment for an individual faith."

Using the plain meaning of words this leads me to believe the Government is not intending to exempt religious adoption agencies - but maybe I am misinterpreting the words being used - we can certainly hope and pray this is the case. Maybe we won't have to wait that long - I gather that Ruth Kelly is intending to put forward her proposals in the next week or so. Watch this space.

Meanwhile on a recent posting on the Lawyers Christian Fellowship (sic) there is a rather odd update on the situation, starting off with a rather odd quote from Martin Luther:

‘If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battle front besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.’ (Luther’s Works. Weimar Edition. Briefwechsel [Correspondence], vol. 3, pp. 81f.).

I must say it does gladden my heart when Christians engage in a deep reading of the Reformers (so rare these days) - especially when it's Martin Luther's 'Briefwechsel' not sure if the Reformers' writings have attained canonical status yet.

I may be wrong but that was probably in the context of Martin Luther taking a stand either in favour of a rigorist view of predestination or, more likely, in the context of Martin Luther condemning fellow Protestants and refusing communion with them because - they didn't conform to Luther's exact view of the world - not because of their views on homosexuality, but because they each had a slightly differing interpretation of the presence of Christ in the Lord's Supper..... This worldview is, in part, what led to the mass persecution of the Anabaptists inthe time of the Reformation (though by followers of Zwingli, Calvin, Bucer and Melancthon as well as Lutherans it must be said).

Also in the LCF page we find this rant:

Interviewer: “So why are you opposing this law”

LCF Response: “Let me first make it clear that as Christians we oppose all forms of unjustified discrimination in society, including on the grounds of sexual orientation. Thousands of years before anyone had thought of human rights legislation or non-discrimination legislation, the Bible gave a far more powerful pronouncement against discrimination by commanding us to love our neighbours as ourselves. Following the Bible will achieve more than any Regulation could at eliminating unfair discrimination” [Yeah right]

“However, what these Regulation do is they go beyond outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation by requiring Christians, in certain circumstances, to go against the Bible’s fundamental teaching about sexual morality”

“Let me tell you why it is a problem that these Regulations deny this fundamental freedom of conscience and freedom of religion. Firstly, we do not think that the Government should legislate to force Christians to act against their fundamental beliefs. Secondly, this law subverts the message of Christianity, which is of God’s love for all people and his desire for all people to turn from their sins and know the joy of being reconciled with Him. This message to repent and believe makes no sense if Christians are forced to condone sinful behaviour.” [Unless we discriminate against gay people we can't proclaim God's love to them].

So, I think we really see the true agenda of these people, which is in fact to normalise discrimination of LGB people within society whilst bizarrely claiming that if we all followed the Bible that there would be no need for an equality law. An amazing claim since most of the clamour to be able to discriminate seems to come from this section of society.

Hence the need for the Government to stand firm and not give in to people who are no doubt sincere in their beliefs but are clearly slightly unhinged.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Ruth Kelly trying to create loopholes

According to this account in the Independent, which I must say seems quite well informed that Ruth Kelly (with the connivance of Tony Blair) is minded to exempt religious adoption agencies from the forthcoming sexual orientation regulations - "it's wrong to discriminate unless you really want to do it and are powerful enough to get your prejudices written into law, in which case it's fine and dandy".

To create a major loophole in legislation designed to deal with discrimination, not for the purpose of making the legislation work better or to deal with equality issues, but simply to create a publicly justified area where LGB people can be legally discriminated against, which ijn fact drives a horse and cart through the spirit and intention of the legislation (which is to create equality) not perpetuate discrimination.

The story in the Independent states that many within the Parliamentary Labour Party see that giving in to bigotry and prejudice in this way is deeply repugnant and a poltical disaster in the making.

The Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights (LCLGR), the TUC and individual trade unions have told the Government in no uncertain terms that they should quite simply do the right thing and implement proper, robust laws on equality that do what they say on the tin - outlaw discrimination and make people equal before the law.

According to the Independent Ruth Kelly intends to finalise her proposals and submit them next week - time for some last minute lobbying.

How to lobby your MP:

Simply go to put in your post code and send a message via the website.

You can also sign the petition on the No 10 website

UPDATE BBC report about above topic indicating the breadth of opposition to Ruth Kelly's proposed exemption, including Ben Bradshaw and Lord Faulkener, who is reported to have told the BBC:

"We have introduced laws which prevent discrimination against people on the basis of their sexual orientation; those laws should be given full effect. We do take the view in this country that you shouldn't be discriminated against on that basis and think that applies to everybody, whatever your religion."

And while we're on the topic - here (as cited by Thinking Anglicans) is a perceptive article in the Church Times by Giles Fraser.

Big Brother Racism

I'd like to take a few moments to reflect on the story about Racism in Big Brother.

No need (I think) for any web references as it's all around the web and the print news.

My view - the comments made against Shilpa were racist in nature.

To say otherwise is to endorse and allow any such behaviour in school, playground, workplace where you can have an argument with someone and then say all sorts of things and say "well it's not racism is it?". Answer yes it is racism.

We always need to be reminded that a lack of intention to racially harass doesn't justify whatever you might say and then turn round and say "I didn't mean any harm - so it's alright then".

The bigger part of the blame lies with Channel 4 and Endemol. They knew what was happening and could have intervened (when they eventually did it brought about an apology and some kind of reconcilaiation between the contestants). The fact they didn't means that the Channel 4 is using racism as a form of entertainment, which is utterly despicable for a public broadcaster.

Channel 4's behaviour is uncoscionable, expoitative and debasing of our culture and society.