Faith groups demanding to be exempt from anti-bigotry legislation

Lobbyists in a meeting with the minister for Women and Equality:

Ruth Kelly: Our vision is of an equal, inclusive society where every citizen is treated with respect and where there is opportunity for all. We want to measurably improve the lives of all of those who are discriminated against. Our task is to promote equality for all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion or belief, age or personal disability. This is why we are implementing legislation to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sexuality. A bank can’t sack somebody for being gay, but can refuse a mortgage application on this basis. It’s wrong, insulting to reasonable thinking people everywhere, and a genuine violation of individual rights. Does anybody have any questions?
The BNP: Hello. We hate gay people. Can we be excluded from this legislation, please?
Ruth Kelly: Get the hell off my planet.
The Church: Hello. We hate homosexuality, but can forgive homosexuals themselves, obviously. Can we be excluded from the legislation, please?
Ruth Kelly: Sure thing.
The BNP: Hey. What?
Ruth Kelly: It’s their religion, retards.
The BNP: Huh. Oh, did we mention we have a magic thimble that tells us to hate homosexuality? Obviously we can separate homosexuality from homosexuals, just like it’s practically possible to hate the colour of people’s skin, not the people themselves. Are we good? Can we be excluded?
Ruth Kelly: …

Obviously, that’s not very funny. Because the whole thing isn’t bloody funny.

Years ago I saw Tony Blair in a commons debate over Section 28 – the Local Government Act that said local authorities would not “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”. The Conservatives wanted to keep it due to their mostly being compassionless dinosaurs with no sense of decency concerned about ‘family values’, then Tony Blair stood up and said Section 28 was a piece of bigotry, and it would be removed. I didn’t know all that much about politics, nor had I thought much about my own stance on this kind of discrimination, but his response was so clearly right, so purely and unambiguously the correct thing to do, that it was obviously the way of the future.

Yet today Tony Blair and Ruth Kelly are apparently trying to exempt faith-based organisations from anti-bigotry legislation. You know: the most powerful, vocal and ubiquitous anti-gay groups in the country. It’s just so completely absurd, and contrary to Labour principles, that I almost find myself assuming there must be some decent argument from the other side that I’ve missed. What are the arguments for their side? It helps to get a little clarification on the legislation itself:

The proposed measures would ban discrimination over the provision of goods and services, meaning, for example, that hotels which banned gay couples from sharing a room could be prosecuted. In turn, gay bars would also have to be open to straight clients. More broadly, the rules potentially affect everything from fertility clinics’ right to refuse lesbian couples IVF treatment to whether the tourism industry can promote heterosexuals-only honeymoon resorts, drawing several Whitehall departments into the row.

Some have argued that there’s no point, that why would gay people want to stay in an obviously hostile hotel? Why should a gay bar be forced to be open to straight clients? I think this is full of crap – tolerance has to protect itself, and see Jo’s post for more – but the Church’s arguments don’t even have such verisimilitude:

Faith schools have, however, led the protest, arguing that the rules could affect teaching about sex or require them to let gay groups hold meetings on their premises after hours. Catholic adoption agencies fear being forced to allow gay couples to adopt children. The Catholic church, which regards homosexuality as a sin, has suggested adoption agencies would close down rather than obey.

They’d have to let gay groups hold meetings on their premises after hours? Diddums! How terrible! Goodness, just think of the consequences of such a horrific requirement! And you’d have to change how you teach about sex? How on earth are you teaching it at the moment? By avoiding homosexuality altogether? If adoption agencies would rather close down than obey, that sounds like good riddance to me.

These are the same faith schools, bear in mind, that say things like:

The Church’s approach to education as a whole, while admitting of diversity of practice in the light of particular local circumstances, is one founded on a notion of inclusiveness rather than separation from the community. The composition of its school population, especially in primary schools where parents generally want their children educated close to home, will reflect the composition of the neighbourhood and must therefore be inclusive of all ethnicity, belief and social class. The Church will seek to develop its provision as part of a wider partnership with communities. Its schools will seek to engage actively with all parents and to be distinctively welcoming to them.

Well, isn’t that just bollocks. This, also from the 2001 Archbishops’ Council Report, is more appropriate:

If the Church schools are at the centre of the Church’s mission, their work must derive from the mission of the whole Church. In a sentence, the Church’s mission is to open up people to what God desires for them: Church schools are places where a particular vision of humanity is offered.

Bit different from providing a tolerant, inclusive education when you put it like that. Isn’t it obvious that schools of a religious character have a built-in predisposition to their own moral failings? Isn’t it obvious that many are going to raise children indoctrinated with the bigotry that pervades the major religions?

The Church’s arguments are an evasion. They don’t address the substance of the legislation nor the assumption behind it, namely that it’s wrong to discriminate on the basis of sexuality. Of course they don’t bring this up. There are no valid counter-arguments; the only argument they have is that a magic thimble in the sky gives them orders. Nobody who uses that kind of argument has any business being involved in the creation of law, and it’s always possible to separate the argument from the faith behind it, if it’s valid. Labour is rejecting its principles by considering exemptions, and we’re simply better than this. Aren’t we?