Saturday, March 24, 2007

Yogyakarta principles launched

The 'Yogyakarta' Principles have been launched on Monday, 26th March. The website relating to these principles can be accessed here. The principles were adopted unanimously by a number of human rights experts in 2006 and are due to be launched officially during the UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.

This comes after 54 member states supported the Norway statement on sexual orientation and gender identity in 2006.

The Yogyakarta principles are summaried as follows:
The Yogyakarta Principles address a broad range of human rights standards and their application to issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Principles affirm the primary obligation of States to implement human rights. Each Principle is accompanied by detailed recommendations to States. The experts also emphasise, though, that all actors have responsibilities to promote and protect human rights. Additional recommendations are addressed to other actors, including the UN human rights system, national human rights institutions, the media, non-governmental organisations, and funders.
It will be very interesting to see how many churches and church organisations are able to sign up to these principles of international human rights law.

Ongoing turmoil in the Anglican Communion

Lots of things going on there and there's quite a pace to it all. I am only blogging about it here because some of it is very important and significant - other blogs give a more 'blow by blow' account.

Notably this excerpt as a resolution of The Episcopal Church (TEC - the American 'Anglicans'):

"We proclaim the Gospel of what God has done and is doing in Christ, of the dignity of every human being, and of justice, compassion, and peace. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, no male or female, no slave or free. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including women, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that in Christ all God's children, including gay and lesbian persons, are full and equal participants in the life of Christ's Church. We proclaim the Gospel that stands against any violence, including violence done to women and children as well as those who are persecuted because of their differences, often in the name of God. The Dar es Salaam Communiqué is distressingly silent on this subject. And, contrary to the way the Anglican Communion Network and the American Anglican Council have represented us, we proclaim a Gospel that welcomes diversity of thought and encourages free and open theological debate as a way of seeking God's truth. If that means that others reject us and communion with us, as some have already done, we must with great regret and sorrow accept their decision."

This quote is very significant and it's well worth reading it out loud a few times to get its full impact. (I am indebted to a variety of sources notably Ruth Gledhill and Andrew Sullivan for drawing attention to this passage, plus I added emphasis to some bits).

The full text of the resolutions carried can be found here.

The main decision by the US bishops is to decline the 'gracious offer' of the Primates meeting at Dar es Salaam recently to set up a committee to jointly run the US Episcopal Church (in effect and I am simplifying here as this isn't a blog destined to church experts).

The Telegraph has an interesting blog which reacts to this by slamming the Archbishop of Canterbury here, concluding with:

"For almost his entire period in office, the treacle-voiced Welsh Primate with the Fu Manchu eyebrows has been bending over backwards to appease people whose views he privately abhors.

I thought Rowan Williams was going to be the finest Archbishop of Canterbury for decades. Instead, he has been a disappointment on every level – even in his own area of expertise, theology.

He does not put his foot in it as often as his predecessor, George Carey – but, then, you can’t commit a gaffe if nobody has a bloody clue what you’re talking about. He is obviously afraid that he will go down in history as the Archbishop on whose watch the Anglican Communion fell into schism.

But that’s not how I, and many other people, will remember him. For us, he will always be the Archbishop who laid down his friend for his life."

I might blog a more positive view of the Archbishop of Canterbury later - when I find someone who's prepared to go public with one.

For excellent ongoing coverage of the ins and outs of the slow Anglican schism your best bet is Thinking Anglicans which has frequent updates from both sides of the divide and some interesting comment threads.

For a view of the Conservative side of things I recommend taking a look at Titusonenine (T19) - but be warned its like entering a parrallel Conservative and not very friendly world.

For the UK there is always the commically named 'Anglican Mainstream' which is actually on the extremist fringes of debate (just take a moment to look through their 'related links' section). Anglican Mainstream is something we should all be aware of. Forget Christian Voice, The Christian Insitute, CARE or even the Evangelical Alliance (which I think is trying to be more moderate these days),it's Anglican Mainstream that is at the heart of the political religious right in the UK (along with the Lawyers Christian Fellowship of course - who organised the Prayer Vigil outside Parliament - though it seems that they got other groups to do the publicity for this).

Anglican Mainstream is also the main proponent in the UK of the largely discredited ex-gay movement. It's obvious that are using the ex-gay movement as a battering ram to oppose LGBT equality in the political sphere, though as I have pointed out elsewhere the idea that "innate and immutable" characteristics are the only reason or justification for civil rights protections is not sustainable - even for areas such as race where such a restriction appears to have actually been introduced from within the US debates over desegregation and the racism that was rife within the US at that time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Blair proud of his gay rights record

BBC report here about a speech that Tony Blair made at a fundraising dinner for Stonewall.

The speech can be seen on Pink News.

It's quite interesting to read in full.

Here's a quote:

And I really just wanted to say two things about the changes that have happened over the past ten years, which you will know very well.

There are a lot of important things, but I think civil partnerships is really the thing � as I was saying to people earlier, it doesn�t just give you a lot of pride, but it actually brought real joy.

I don�t know whether you remember the very first day, and it was quite a bizarre circumstance that the first ceremonies were actually in Northern Ireland.


I was so struck by it, it was so alive, I remember actually seeing the pictures on television. It is not often that you sort of skip around in my job, I can assure you, But it really the fact that that the people were so happy and the fact that you felt just one major, major change had happened, of which everyone can feel really proud.

I think it is genuinely one of the records of achievement that this Government does have to have removed all of the discriminatory laws as well as introducing civil partnerships, employment protection and now goods and services protections.

More on the House of Lords debate - the bishops' speeches

The speeches of the Bishops of Southwell and Nottingham, the Bishop of Winchester and the Archbishop of York can be accessed on by clicking on the hyperlinks.

They make very interesting reading and deserve very close attention.

First of the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham. His speech on the Northern Ireland regulations highlighted the perceived lack of consultation and paid warm tribute to the listening and co-operative approach that the Secretary of State (Ruth Kelly) was showing in allowing further dialogue and consultation over the GB regs.

His principal concerns over the GB regs were summed up as relating to the balance between the freedom of religion and the freedom from discrimination:
"It is hard to escape the conclusion that the right to freedom of religion is being treated as of lesser weight than other human rights. The sixth report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights appears to suggest precisely that, on the grounds that religion and belief are matters of choice and therefore less deserving of protection than sexual orientation, race or sex. If that is indeed the committee's analysis, it is certainly not one that we share."
And closed with:
"For now, it gives me no satisfaction to say that the present regulations represent a disturbing erosion of religious liberty."
This seems to be related to schools which he didn't dwell on and adoption agencies which he referred to at a little more length.

In his speech he seems to reflect the approach suggested by the Archbishop of Canterbury that where you find a genuine doctrinal reason for discrimination (even if in a publicly funded service) then that should be left alone.

The obvious critique of that is that you end up with a set of regulations with so many exemptions it basically absolves Christians from obeying the law.

The Archbishop of York gave an odd speech, very much laden with metaphor and imagery which was never entirely explained. The included references to spider's webs, sausage machines and umbrellas versus bus shelters.

He must have been quite proud of his oration as he immediatley released it on the web and it has since been posted by Anglican Mainstream.

He started his speech with a quote of Wlberforce about the passing of Christianity from the public sphere and went on to bemoan a dogmatic secularism alongside a 'new' hierarchy of rights.

In a bizarre quotation he stated
"The whole concept of human rights is one that is alien to rabbinic jurisprudence ..." and "For the Torah is a golfing umbrella, not an infinitely extensible bus shelter".
In summary then:

- we are no longer a Christian country if we grant equal status to LGB people
- human rights are alien to the rabbinic (and therefore Chhristian?) tradition (amazing to find that Christian authorities are now willing to quote rabbinic authorities - we might do better with 26 rabbis in the House of Lords)
- LGB people don't fit under the golfing umbrella of Torah based rights

Following his golfing umbrella analogy (the meaning of which we may have to speculate a little) he stated:

"This freedom of thought may help us to get out of the quagmire of the human rights debate."

So for John Sentamu, human rights which under most human rights intruments are seem as 'universal' are actually a 'quagmire', to which a specifically religious 'freedom of thought' and presumably expression is called for (i.e. the one about to be denied to Nigerian LGBT associations - they are about to be helped out of their 'quagmire' of human rights to free assembly, association and assembly by a religious freedom of thought that is ranged against them - they're no doubt outside God's 'golfing umbrella' of rights)

This is (I presume) to avoid us having a 'bus shelter' approach where "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights - The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which makes Christians uncomfortable because they can only practice as Christians if they are able to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation (and the duty of a Christian nation is to make positive provision for Christian worship and discipleship).

I find it interesting that a specifically religious freedom of thought (one that is denied to its opponents) views the universal application of human rights as a quagmire.

Prior to the bit about the golfing umbrella we had this:

"We must keep in mind the epigram of Montesquieu, that great, great jurist, who said that if mankind was of one mind, and only one man was of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified to silence him than he, if he had the power, to silence mankind."

Which reminds us that Montesquieu was indeed a great liberal of his time - but the relevance to the sexual orientation regulations? And was Montesquieu a Christian in any traditional sense (that is any more than Goethe, whom he also quotes?). [I am advised that in fact this "epigram" is in fact part of JS Mill's On Liberty - the world would no doubt be a much better place if JS Mill was used more often as an authority by Church leaders].

If the regulations "silenced" anyone they would be easily struck down by the Courts - they're regulations and therefore secondary to the Human Rights Act and there's a broad religious exemption. But again to refer to Nigeria - here is a real threat of silencing one small group of people who are "of a contrary mind".

He also appeared to be in a bit of a muddle over the EU Equal Treatment Directive and the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations (2003), claiming a wide religious exemption - it is actually much narrower than the Goods and Services Regulations and only really covers ministers of religion.

After many erudite but not necessarily aposite quotations the Archbishop of York sat down, with a lot more to say but I think he'd run out of his allotted time.

Last but certainly not least we have the Bishop of Winchester who I think it's fair to say has form on this kind of debate and I don't think could be accused of having said anything positive about LGB people ever in his life.

The Bishop of Winchester made a number of points but ended up on education (as previewed by the Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham - they'd obviously read each others' speeches before hand).

His beef was twofold. First of all that the regulations covering education were for the most part welcome, but that they were drafted too widely and would inevtably end up covering the curriculum.

Now at this point I need to break off my analysis to say that I partly agree with him on this. I think an LGB school student could take a case if the curriculum subjected them to direct discrimination. Now I think that's actually inevitable over time. On this point and (probably) on this point alone I have some agreement with the religious right. This is not though the same as saying that certain things will have to be taught because of the regulations (equally race relations law doesn't mean that a school has to, for instance, celebrate 'Black History Month') so there is no objective duty to do anything different. But if a pupil is subjected to a curriculum, that for instance had the effect of undermining his or her self confidence and/or exposed them to bullying which disrupted their studies then I think there could be a challenge. That is though unlikely to happen if the school takes action against homophobic bullying and follows the guidelines already in force.

The Bishop concludes with this utterly chilling paragraph:

"I greatly regret the fact that the Government chose not to do so, but, rather, chose to legislate to coerce the churches and others to accept as the norm for this society—the regulations ask us to accept this and to collude in the Government's promotion—alternative patterns of living and of family life that many people conscientiously believe are less than the best, less than the most healthy, and less than God's will for humankind."

Remember those words. And if you are reading them as an LGB person this is what he thinks of you - less than the best, less than the most healthy, and less than God's will for humankind.

He wants an exemption so that children can be told they are "less than the best", that they are "less than healthy" that their lives are "less than God's will for humankind".

So the mask slips - we are "less than the best, less than healthy and less than God's will for humankind" and that ultimately makes us a kind of enemy because we see ourselves to be equal and not less than the best.

And the Government "chose to legislate to coerce the churches and others to accept as the norm for this society—the regulations ask us to accept this and to collude in the Government's promotion—alternative patterns of living and of family life".

This really is the nub (I think) to this whole debate.

The Sexual Orientation regulations are fundamentally about equality for LGB people. Religious people may still speak freely, hold teachings that we may or may not approve of. They may even adopt discriminatory practices within their own spheres.

The real nub of this is that the original "homophobic" doctrine goes something like this:

a) To be gay is at the very least to be less than the best (may as well use the phrase now)
b) All Christians have a duty to treat LGB people as their inferiors and to ensure inequality of treatment (for example in marriage and discrimination law and in parenting and family life)
c) Failure to allow Christians an accomodation to create an inferior social status for LGB people means they are being stopped from practicing thir religion, which on closer analysis appears more of a socio-political doctrine of power and control over others than a genuinely religious belief.

In trying to make the manifestation of religion (including discriminatory practice) they are attempting to do that which they accuse the Government of - create a hierarchy of rights with themselves at the top, immune from the law on equality. Well, you can't blame them for trying.

The exemptions provided for religious organisations are, in fact, broad. The bishops appear to have swallowed rather uncritically the line put out by the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and Anglican Mainstream early on in the debate over the Northern Ireland regulations.

Their Lordships did not agree.

As Faithworks have always diligently pointed out, the hysterical reaction to the sexual orientaiton regulations does no-one any good.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Praise be

Just to let everyone know the news reported below and also reported on the BBC, with a vote of 168 to 122 an inspite of several impassioned speeches in opposition by the Anglican hierarchy.

The regulations have now been approved by both Houses and enter into force on the 30th April.

I will blog about the debate later.

For now I will simply say "Praise be".

I, along with many other colleagues in the Labour Party and union movement (especially noting UNISON's LGBT committee which has been camapigning almost solidly on this for a year and a half, as has the Labour Campaign for Lesbian and Gay Rights).

We argued our case, campaigned, lobbied and argued. It was never easy, never a given and we never gave up even when we were told there was no hope.

We faced huge opposition from the religious right, that has now become an entrenched force in our political life (sadly). We have now acquired vicious and determined enemies that include no less than the entire hierarchy of the Church of England (no bother - they also opposed an equal age of consent and the removal of section 28). Yet the record will reflect who our enemies and this hatred of us will not melt away immediately, though no doubt will do so with time.

So I will be raising a glass (or two .....) to a great piece of work including many, many people and - all in all - a job well done.

Now for the next challenge.

Really good coverage (as always) - especially about the 'rally' on the Zefrog blogsite.

More comment to be added later. Bye for now.

House of Lords debate underway

The debate on the sexual orientation regulations is now underway in the House of Lords.

They have already been opposed by the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Winchester.

To quote Winchester at his vilest stating that same sex couples were "Less than the best, less than the most healthy and less than God's will".

Lords Alli and Smith have already spoken warmly in favour of the provisions to warm support from the Chamber.

The Vice President of the Humanist Society spoke in favour of freedom of religious viewpoints but of the need for the religious to not have the right to remove rights from others in pursuance of their beliefs.

Lord Lester spoke magisterially as he always does (and his stamp can be read in the Joint Committee on Human Rights report into the sexual orientation regulations) crititicising "misleading, homophobic and scurrilous statements" and "propaganda" used against the regulations, citing the Times advertisement placed by Coherent and Christian Voice, making completely "untrue statements", seeking to mislead people about the provisions.

He picked up on the Archbishop of York's attack, not just in the regulations, but even on the principle of human rights itself. He pointed out (completely correctly) that any provisions would have to read as being consistent with human rights provisions relating to the freedom of speech, conscience and religion.

Their Lordships are now in the process of voting on the hostile amendment to not approve the regulations. From the voice vote it sounded like the amendment would be defeated but I will update with the final vote on this when it comes.


FOR 122


This means that the amendment opposing the regulations is defeated.

The regulations are now passed into law and take effect on the 30th April.

You can follow the debate live via the weblink here.

More later.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Do you want to be healed?

If so make your way to this Conference (at a cost of £85).

It's an event that is being promoted by ........Anglican Mainstream (if these lot are 'mainstream' I'd sure hate to meet the extremists), the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and CARE. Oh and 'Living Waters' - not sure what this is but I am sure we will find out at some point.

They are very anxious to get everyone thinking that you can heal people's sexual orientation, which is dubious at best and down right manipulative at its worst.

Strangely enough all of these groups are the shock troops of the religious right in the UK at the moment, vociferously opposing the sexual orientation regulations including the use of exaggeration and downright dishonesty in their portrayals (now I wonder why these two things are always linked together like that).

These are the groups we need protection from in the anti-discrimination laws that we are asking Parliament to approve tomorrow evening.

For those who want a more benign view of things see the press release from Faithworks in support of the sexual orientation regulations. It's very good, very sensible.

Faithworks stands by the statements we have previously made on the SORs and is confident that they do not pose a threat to Christians.

This is not an argument about Christian morality. It is rather a discussion about discrimination and prejudice, and ensuring that our services are delivered inclusively and in non-discriminatory ways.

While recognising that there are different Christian perspectives on the issue of human sexuality, we encourage the church to continue to ensure that our service of other people is driven by the inclusive example of Christ, who served all people, even if he disagreed with their lifestyle. The proposed SORs are an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate the love and grace of Christ. Acceptance does not equate with agreement.

The government has made it clear that it respects the conscience of people of faith. The proposed legislation does contain significant exemptions for religious organisations in appropriate circumstances.

The Christian Right plans another torch-lit "rally"

You may have a sense of deja vu about this one.

The assorted ranks of the religious right have planned their next action which is to hold another prayer vigil outside the House fo Lords to coincide with tomorrow's debate and vote on the sexual orientation regulations.

Will these people never give up? Well, no - for one thing they're determined. For another they have got hold of a notion that the disparagement of LGBT people is the core of their faith by which they can gain God's approval.

Probably they will get a better seat in heaven if they push this to the end of the line.

Then again maybe not.

For info on the "rally" see the website for ....... Anglican Mainstream as well as the ever informative Zefrog blog.

Now, there is no counter demo planned or authorised but last time there were many people who kind of turned up on spec either to protest or engage the massed ranks of the religious or alternatively to attend the hearings in the House of Lords and see it all unfold live as it were.

If you are interested in turning up please feel free to do so. The last time Zefrog had a good write up (with pictures!!) of the event.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Commons approves the Sexual Orientaiton Regulations

From the BBC

The regulations were approved by 310 to 100 (majority of 210).

There will be a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday where there appears to much more nervousness about the outcome, though their Lordships supported the NI regs by 3 to 1 (the BBC is speaking of a "likely defeat", though personally I would doubt that, but that remains to be seen - as I have said previously there are virulent conservative forces at work in our society so we have to wait and see).

If defeated by the unelected upper house it would be very interesting to see what happens next as well as interesting to see what those people who continually tell us of the value of the Lords because of the need for primacy of the Commons would say.

The voting lists are available here (scroll to the end). Soom there will be more analysis of the vote via the Public Whip (i.e. by party etc).


The House of Commons debate in Committee can be found here. It's well worth a read, as one Tory MP after another (and mostly not even members of the committee but allowed under the rules to just turn up and speak but not vote) posed repeated points of order to interrupt and delay the proceedings.

The recording of it can be found here.

There's very good coverage (as usual) on the Thinking Anglican website (here and here) and the Zefrog blog (here and here), with lots of other angles and other web links.