Saturday, 10 June 2006

equality: goods and services

The UK government has been conducting a public consultation on its proposals to outlaw Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Provision of Goods and Services. You can find the consultation document here (PDF). Before you ask, Parliament has already finalised a corresponding set of regulations relating to discrimination on grounds of Religion and Belief. They are in Part 2 of the Equality Act 2006. The power to make these SO regulations is in Part 3.

Yesterday the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England published its formal response to the government’s consultation. You can read that response in full here (PDF) and it is summarised in this press release.

This morning, Jonathan Petre has a report in the Telegraph Church ‘could be forced to bless gay weddings’.

The CofE’s official response is quite muted in comparison with the responses from the Lawyers Christian Fellowship and from Anglican Mainstream. The latter body provides a convenient link to a recent House of Commons exchange on the matter. (I don’t think this is because AM endorses all the views expressed.)

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Saturday, 10 June 2006 at 7:41am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

I think that the Archbishop's Council's reponse does a very thorough job of showing that the regulations, as currently drafted, would disproportionately impinge on people's freedom of religion.

The tone may be different to AM and others, but the substance is very similar. For instance: "it is crucial to ensure that churches and other faith communities *and their members* are able to manifest their own doctrines and convictions .... without fear of legal sanction." ie we'd get sued, prosecuted etc.

"The provision of .. services and facilities is not considered merely incidental to their religion by the Churches’ members; rather it is considered a central and vital expression of the duties and obligations inherent in religious belief itself. From a Christian point of view, practice of one’s religious belief cannot be limited to the private sphere." “[i]n a more generalised and non-specific form the tenets of a religion may affect the entirety of a believer’s way of life ...”. [there are] ‘perceived obligations’ to act in a certain way arising from belief... “If … the belief takes the form of a perceived obligation to act in a specific way, then in principle, doing that act pursuant to that belief is itself a manifestation of that belief in practice.”

Posted by: Dave on Saturday, 10 June 2006 at 11:22am BST

The major explanation that the biblical-conservative believers are now offering to adjust the new equality laws in U.K. involve what they term a distinction between negative discrimination behaviors based on homophobia, and negative behaviors based on a sincere religious condemnation of homosexuality, LGBTQ Folks, or sex acts as such. How well does this stand up?

Examples given in some of the conservative comments include: refusing housing or charitable social services to LGBTQ people, because that housing or those charitable social services constitutes a key religiously-motivated act that indissolubly embodies both the religious witness as well as the service involved. If giving an LGBTQ person any access to housing or charitable services could at all be construed – by anybody else whatsoever? – as a support for their immoral or evil LGBTQ living, then it does not seem clear that religiously-embedded housing or services should ever be made available to LGBTQ citizens by any conservative or self-described biblical organization, on any occasion. The good reasons that one must be refused in keeping with faith are probably the same reasons that all must be fairly refused. Or?

One cannot help but wonder just how far such a sincere religious refusal needs to go, so that it can stand true to its rights to negatively define people, including refusing them help that the church could offer them if only they were straight. Alas, some of these LGBTQ Folks are not only different, but view themselves as equals who are just as capable of positive and effective living as anybody else, generally speaking, can be. The fact that they view themselves differently, positively, means nothing to the negative orthodoxy involved in possibilities of conscientious refusal.

Then. Can a church housing service just say no? Can a social worker in a program that is sponsored by a church or religious entity just say no? Can a tutor outside a school who happens to be based and sponsored in a church-related educational program just say no? Can a doctor or allied health professional refuse to treat an LGBTQ person who is defined by their sincere religious beliefs as immoral, evil, sinful, and necessarily so?

The main note of balance struck includes the conservative suggestion, echoed even in Canterbury’s comments, that if other housing or charitable services are still somehow available to a sexual minority citizen, then the local refusal of religiously-embedded housing or charitable services does not actually constitute a hardship that outweighs the rights of the conservative religious server to say no, as his or her religious beliefs require.

How well can this hold up in practice? What is the real difference between having an apartment or house denied to you, because the landlord or realtor simply markedly dislikes (or is disgusted by) LGBTQ folks, generically? - And/or because that owner/manager sincerely condemns LGBTQ folks in compliance to well-known religious beliefs? What is the difference between saying that you simply dislike and are disgusted by LGBTQ folks, and saying that you are disgusted by them or that you dislike them, because you conform to religious beliefs which say deeply negative things about them?

Posted by: drdanfee on Sunday, 11 June 2006 at 2:27am BST

If thats the case, Dave, then those churches will have to make a choice. Either they accept that their discriminatory practices are no longer lawful, and adjust their approach accoprdingly, or they get out of that sort of service provision. Discriminatory service provision is not acceptable.

However, in reality, this will have little effect. Many church organisations do not discriminate in any case and incorporate sexual orientation within their equalities policy.

There will be appropriate exceptions made for matters directly pertaining to worship, but any service aimed at the wider public outside that church must operate within the bounds of equality legislation. If the church feels it cannot do this, then we are better off letting others provide those services and ensuring that the public subsidy they receive goes elsewhere.

The Government have made it clear enough that widespread exemptions are not going to be incorporated, so this is another 'last cry' by the church, just like most of their others relating to gay and lesbian equality. The employment laws were mildly amended to cover direct religious employees, and the same will be the case here - but no further.

Posted by: Merseymike on Monday, 12 June 2006 at 12:48am BST

I was appalled by the Council's submission.

I can not accept that freedom of religion means freedom to oppress, marginalise or exclude others.

I believe in freedom of religious belief and worship, for all. But not freedom to put a stop to those with whom I / we may disagree.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Monday, 12 June 2006 at 4:50pm BST

drdanfee wrote: " a sincere religious condemnation of homosexuality, LGBTQ Folks"

Dear drdanfee, this is the "straw man" put up by people attacking conservative beliefs on sexual morality. What is condemmed in the Bible is same-sex sex, the act. There are plenty of people who experience homosexual attractions who are themselves evangelical/traditionalist believers, and therefore do not follow through on what they consider to be unholy attractions. These are LGBTQ folks too!

What the SO Regs, as currently drafted, seem to seek to do is to make it illegal to either refuse srevices on the basis of someone's homosexual behaviour, to teach (even in religious schools) that such behaviour is unholy, or to refuse access to any service in a way that might be construed as biased against homosexuals or homosexual behaviour (eg restricting services to members who sign a statementof faith that includes the authority of Scripture for conduct). I think that the Archbishop's Council are right in asserting that this goes much to far in disproportionately burdoning one group (believers who uphold the teaching of the Church of England) with little added benefit for the other group ('active' homosexuals).

Generally Human Rights are never absolute. Proportionality is the key to deciding the "balance" otherwise one group becomes oppressed by another group imposing it's rights. (imagine if you will the effect of the "right to marry" being taken to the extreme where no woman can say "no" to any man).

Posted by: Dave on Monday, 12 June 2006 at 9:27pm BST

Dave
No current draft of SO regulations yet exists, so your comment is a little premature. The consultation document asks various questions, and indicates the government's inclinations at the time of drafting, but the whole point of the consultation is to obtain views from the public before drafting the regulations.

Only the R&B regulations currently exist. If the SO regulations do follow that model, then I don't see that it is likely your concerns will arise, as they are really quite conservative in their wording.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 12 June 2006 at 9:56pm BST

Dear Simon, OK - lets be more exact. What was giving rise to concern in my previous postings are the proposals and inclinations that the government expresses in the consultation document..

I expect that you are correct about the balance that will be struck in the eventual Regs - at least for churches/mosques/synagogues/temples etc, religious run schools, and religious charities & organisations. I am less hopeful for individuals who provide services and suspect that they might not be adequately provided with exceptions until someone brings a case. Businesses (and their owners/managers) will almost certainly be obliged to behave as if they have an no moral stance even if they are explicitely Christian (a la employers in non-religious organisations).

ps I would call other SO discrimination Regs "somewhat nearer proportionate" rather than "conservative" !

Posted by: Dave on Monday, 12 June 2006 at 11:04pm BST

I find the evangelical focus on sex a bit perplexing and prurient. Also it misses the point. LGBT folks' lives are no more dominated by sex ( 'the act') than those of the heteroxeual majority. I want many acts to be valued --the early morning cuppa, shared in a double bed, making a life together, with love, and struggle and conflict and joy. My partner and I still like to sleep together after 33 years (nothing to do with Dave's' act'!),because we relax and sleep more soundly. Will some guest house or 'christian conference centre' see as rampant, --or as a typical middle aged couple, who love each other, and now seek a quiet life ?

But even in our twenties our lives were full & varied -- including an elderly bedridden relative who came to end her days with us.

Although they had been told we were gay before appointing me
the Church suddenly decided to try to sack me, and throw the 3 of us out on to the street.

How this could be ethical or advance the gospel was & is lost on me.

Posted by: Laurence Roberts on Tuesday, 13 June 2006 at 11:42am BST

Dear Laurence, in my experience liberals spend a lot more time discussing sex than conservatives do !

The reason we abstain from sex outside marriage and would never enter into a same-sex partnership (if we are LGBT) is that we believe this to be unholy. Unholy not because there isn't love and companionship but because Scripture tells us that God calls it unholy.. and that He made human beings to be [monogamous] male-female couples. You might have noticed that this is the way we are made physically, the way that humans create families, the building block of society..

The church is a voluntary association of people who choose to believe and follow the teachings of Christ and the Apostles. There is no compulsion. How could you remain in office with church responsibility if you were not prepared to believe or conduct yourself according to the church's teachings ? Folk have been defrocked for no longer being able to say they believe the creeds too...

Posted by: Dave on Tuesday, 13 June 2006 at 11:08pm BST

Dave ; I wouldn't expect either religious schools or charities to be given the right to discriminate in service provision. In terms of worship and direct religious services, yes, but as the employment regulations, nothing which isn't directly 'religious'

Posted by: Merseymike on Wednesday, 14 June 2006 at 12:40am BST

Dear Mike, I'm happy if "gay parents" sending kids to a CofE school, or pupils attend who are gay. What I am appalled at is the possibility that a religious school may be sued or prosecuted for teaching pupils to [try to] abide by the morality of that religion, or for objecting to promotion of sinful sexuality or open displays of "sinful" behaviour by pupils or parents.

Posted by: Dave on Wednesday, 14 June 2006 at 8:47pm BST

It seems to me that the CofE cannot argue in this way following the rejection of Jeffrey John for the bishopric of Reading.
This act of discrimination flies in the face of their own arguments.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 16 June 2006 at 6:51am BST

Ask yourself these things? When was the last time you were refused a hotel room because you were Christian? When was the last time you were verbally abused in the street because you were were a christian? When was the last time you were physically attacked because you were a christian? When was the last time you were scowled at belittled, your relationships denigrated because you were a christian? Because these things are everyday events for gay men and Lesbians.When was the last time you were told that it was not because you were born Anglican but because you chose to practice your beliefs. You can't seperate your identity from your religous practice, how can you so blindly suggest that sexual orientation, and sexual behviour and love are easily seperate. Many people still have sincerely held beliefs that other races are inferior, that the opposite sex is inferior, that other religions are inferior yet it is now unacceptable to discriminate in terms of employment and provision of goods and services.
By all means continue to lobby to legitimise your discrimination regarding Gay and Lesbian people. But don't kid yourself that it doesn't hurt, that you're not disadvantaging and belittling gay men and Lesbians, that they can easily get services elsewhere, that you are not turning them away or being cruel and that it isn't an incredibly poor and hyprocritical reflection on the Anglican Church and the 'christian' values you also espouse, such as love. Your right to be cruel is obviously more important than the health and well being of gay men and lesbians.

Posted by: David on Tuesday, 27 June 2006 at 1:34pm BST

Whatever happened to "let him without sin cast the first stone"? So will your Christian run residential home also refuse access to thieves and adulterers? Are those that run the facilities totally free of sin themselves? I am amazed that people claiming alliegiance to Christ can be so judgmental and uncaring!
I used to go to church but left when I came out as being a gay woman resulted in old friends avoiding me. Now the church would deny me the right to be treated civilly simply because the person that runs my local school or hospital has a faith. I don't remember Jesus asking if people were gay before he healed them. I can't find "suffer the little children unless they're gay" in my copy of the scriptures! OK - don't ordain gay priests - that's your choice, but denying me the basic human right of equality in the eyes of the law smacks of the Pharisees and those that tried to kill Mary Magdalene!

Posted by: Sam on Monday, 9 October 2006 at 1:10pm BST
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