Churches unite against gay rights

A large organisation has today signalled its support for the Catholic Church in demanding exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation. Is it the NSPCC? Childline? Save the Children? Non-Catholic Adoption agencies? Perhaps a letter from a large group of philosophers, arguing for the inherent goodness of discriminating against somebody on the basis of their sexual orientation? Who would possibly want to be seen standing up for bigotry? It is of course the Church of England.

It’s all to do with ‘rights of conscience’, you see. Imagine if the fire brigade said they wanted to refuse employment to homosexuals – ‘freedom of conscience’ wouldn’t wash for a minute. There’s a petition on the Downing Street website asking the Prime Minister to implement legislation as it stands, without exemptions. I don’t know whether these kinds of petitions are all that useful, but I’ve signed it. Pass it around.

I was interested to see yesterday’s letter from Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor’s letter (thanks to Tom in the comments for finding a copy) as I wanted to know whether he attempted to justify his position. He did. The key paragraphs are:

We place significant emphasis on marriage, as it is from the personal union of a man and a woman that new life is born and it is within the loving context of such a relationship that a child can be welcomed and nurtured. Marital love involves an essential complementarity of male and female.

We recognise that some children, particularly those who have suffered abuse and neglect, may well benefit from placement with a single adoptive parent.

However, Catholic teaching about the foundations of family life, a teaching shared not only by other Christian Churches but also other faiths, means that Catholic adoption agencies would not be able to recruit and consider homosexual couples as potential adoptive parents.

I’m finding this strangely difficult to get my head around. Firstly, I think he’s saying that marriage is always preferable, but he doesn’t back this up with anything. Then he says marriage is always between a man and a woman because only a man and a woman can have a child, which doesn’t follow. That’s just an arbitrary definition; ‘two people who love each other’ would make more sense. It has the insidious implication that same-sex couples cannot love each other as much. He then says that sometimes it’s ok to put a child with a single parent, despite the lack of ‘marital love’. Finally there’s the ‘I think this because I think this’ argument, without any attempt at justification – why should we listen to ‘Catholic teaching about the foundations of family life’ if you can’t explain the reasonings behind it? I’m not in your club! As justifications go, it’s pretty pathetic.

The Archbishops of Canterbury and York today sent a letter supporting the Cardinal. It makes no attempt to justify bigotry, instead resorting to…well, let’s see.

Many in the voluntary sector are dedicated to public service because of the dictates of their conscience.

In legislating to protect and promote the rights of particular groups the government is faced with the delicate but important challenge of not thereby creating the conditions within which others feel their rights to have been ignored or sacrificed, or in which the dictates of personal conscience are put at risk.

The rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well meaning.

Bullshit. Everybody acts according to the dictates of their conscience, but the problem is that people contradict each other. If somebody thinks it’s fine to murder people they don’t like, would the Archbishops argue for freedom of ‘conscience’ there? If not, why? How is it different? Presumably because there would be demonstrable harm that justifies taking action against them. Everybody would agree (including them, apparently) that unfair discrimination against homosexuals constitutes demonstrable harm, but their counter-arguments show no such evidence of harm to themselves. What would actually happen if Catholic adoption agencies gave children to same-sex couples? Who would suffer? The churches have provided no evidence at all that this would harm anybody, aside from baseless insinuations that children need the love of both a man and a woman. Even they don’t have the nerve to come out and say ‘it offends God’, because they’d be rightly ignored. Instead they come up with this ‘rights of conscience’ nonsense, which is just ‘I want to behave like I do because I just do’, and in this case is a thin veil for ‘I don’t like gay people’. There are no ‘rights of conscience’ – they made them up.

On numerous occasions in the past proper consideration has been given to the requirements of consciences alongside other considerations contributing to the common good, such as social need or human rights – the right, for example, of some doctors not to perform abortions, even though employed by the National Health Service.

So what? Mistakes would never be rectified if precedent were a valid argument. Good to see that human rights are at least something to be weighed against freedom of conscience, though, even if they lose out in the end.

It would be deeply regrettable if in seeking, quite properly, better to defend the rights of a particular group not to be discriminated against, a climate were to be created in which, for example, some feel free to argue that members of the government are not fit to hold public office on the grounds of their faith affiliation.

Ah, we should stop criticising Ruth Kelly. I’m not criticising her because of her faith affiliation, I’m criticising her because her arguments make no sense. Again, we’re meant to assume that criticism of arguments from faith is in some way shameful, when it’s actually completely reasonable. But I wouldn’t say she’s not fit to hold public office – she gives every impression of being a very intelligent and competent woman, it’s just that the evidence seems to suggest she has a blind spot when it comes to faith-related matters.

As you approach the final phase of what has, until very recently, been a careful and respectful consideration of the best way in which to introduce and administer new protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in England and Wales, we hope you, and cabinet colleagues, will do justice to the interests of the much wider grouping of interests within the nation that will be affected.

There are more of us religious people than there are gay people! I’m not actually sure that’s true. How many people are gay? About 1 in 10? And how many people are practicing Christians? Only 7% of people attend church regularly, and how many of them are actually as homophobic as their leaders? I’m not convinced the wider grouping of interests isn’t being served perfectly well, although that hardly matters – what’s important is that the arguments make sense.

It is vitally important that the interests of vulnerable children are not relegated to suit any political interest.

Political interest? What? This is just emotional blackmail.

And that conditions are not inadvertently created which make the claims of conscience an obstacle to, rather than the inspiration for, the invaluable public service rendered by parts of the voluntary sector.

If your conscience tells you that there’s something wrong with being gay, I’m perfectly happy for you not to work in the voluntary sector. But you can, of course, do what you like as long as you have reasonable arguments to back it up. It’s nice, being able to do what you like, don’t you think?

I’m warming to the petition. 753 signatures so far.