Friday, 19 August 2011

EHRC in Equality Law U-Turn

In the video above, you can hear and see a car screeching as it comes to an abrupt unplanned halt. A similar sound could be heard coming from the Equality and Human Rights Commission as they confirmed that they will not seek ‘reasonable adjustments’ to be made for religious workers who refuse to serve gay people. The Commission had planned on supporting a number of cases appearing before the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds of religious discrimination.

I blogged on the original planned legal action next month (see it here). I wrote:
'This case is about discrimination and ultimately the Commission is trying (and failing) to find a third-way between discriminating against the religious, and discriminating against homosexuals. I often tell students that understanding the law is about the application of values and ideas. There is no such thing as equality in this arena - there is instead the necessary choice of which side you back - a hatred of homosexuals or a hatred of religious freedom.'
Words I stand-by and the Commission has clearly made a fresh choice. In doing so, and as I indicated last month, they merely irritate an alternative audience - this time, the religious.

Pink News reports that Don Horrocks, head of public affairs at the Evangelical Alliance, has condemned the move, stating: “It seems pretty clear that the commission has been successfully intimidated against proceeding as they initially announced.

“They appear to have changed their initial approach as a result of the outcry from those groups who wish to restrict freedom of religion and religious rights of conscience being recognised more fairly by the courts.”

She is right. This is about restricting the freedom of religion, but if you are opposed to that, you must be in favour of homophobia. The EHRC had to made a choice and they have. However, the decision is open for consultation for two weeks so further flip-flopping on this issue can't yet be ruled out.

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Nick said...

There is always an alternative. Just leave both sides alone. Evangelical Christrians can accept/reject whoever they want on their own property, and LGBT individuals can accept/reject anyone on theirs.

And marriage should be reduced to a legal contract between two (or more) individuals, not blessed by the state. Any church or any organisation could accept/reject any form of this contract they want. The state enforces any contract that satisfies the basic rights of those participating in it.

That is real equality right there, with the benefit that it is also compatible with freedom of association. And it remains neutral towards different notions of the good.

Chris Ashford said...

I totally understand where you're coming from Nick - and arguably that would work when it comes to the wearing of a cross on a necklace (although that is still problematic). It wouldn't work in the context of employment (generally speaking) for example where someone refuses to conduct a civil partnership, a teacher who refuses to teach a gay pupil or a police officer who refuses to work on duty during a pride event.

Nick said...

Well the civil partnership issue you can avoid by abolishing them. Contracts regarding shared property and expected behaviour (privatised marriage/civil partnerships) can be ironed out by anyone who is legally qualified. Strict christian solicitors would just get less business than those who are willing to draw up contracts for any couple.

I don't see how the sexuality of a pupil has any bearing on a teacher's ability to teach (unlike marriage ceremonies), and since schools have either a private agreement or statutory requirement to teach a pupil, the teacher's views are going to get stepped on in that occasion. But it is because of the teacher''s failure to discharge a (voluntarily incurred) obligation, not their personal beliefs, that they get stepped on.

Pride marches could be required to provide for their own security (as should all christian/muslim/green whatever parades). Then they will hire security that are not bothered by the nature of the event.

Elly said...

I think they made the right decision with regards to public servants not being allowed to refuse to 'serve' gay/bisexual/etc members of the public.

But supporting the 'rights' of the religious right doesn't make a person homophobic. I support the right of B and B owners to not give double bed rooms to gay couples. As I also support the right of gay tourist cos to run 'gay' or 'lesbian' places which only allow gay men or lesbian women in.

I am not a homophobe. But I may be a homo.

Chris Ashford said...

If you'd asked mea few years ago Elly, I would probably have said exactly what you do in your post. My trouble with that position is I just can't imagine anyone accepting that sort of discrimination on the basis of age, race or disability. I can't get my head around why it is that we accept it on sexuality grounds.

It's worth noting of course that 'gay' hotels have to allow straight people to stay there under current legislation. So, you can have a 'Christian hotel' with crucifixes and bible readings at breakfast but you can't under legislation stop a gay couple from staying there. I think that position is the right one.

Elly said...

yes but straight people do not try and go to 'gay hotels' or on gay cruises or to gay resorts, of which there are many, because they respect the rights of those people to have their own spaces. And because they are well, gay.

It's not all about the law it is partly about common decency and respect for *difference*. We do not all want to be together in one big mixing pot all the time.

And old people, black people and disabled people face all sorts of discrimination that I expect you don't think about very often.

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