Lord MacKay on SORs
As some of you know, there’s a debate today in the House of Lords on the Sexual Orientation Regulations, with a rally going on outside in Parliament Square. You can watch some of the arguments in this BBC news interview this morning (Real Player required) and also listen to a discussion between Lord MacKay and Angela Eagle MP.
Lord MacKay has a fascinating comment piece in today’s Telegraph asking the question as to how far the state has the right to infringe on personal conscience in religious matters. Here’s some of his best bits:
The moral teaching that is part of the faith of many Christians, Jews and Muslims includes the view that the practice of homosexuality is sinful. This is often held along with the view that sexual relations outside marriage are also sinful. These views are not new, but have been included in the teaching of these faiths for a long time.
As I understand these views, they are not concerned with the orientation of the individual, but with the putting into practice of a homosexual orientation by carrying out homosexual acts.
It is also important to remember that those who are true to their faith do not hold views on what is right and wrong as mere theories for debate, but as practical guidance to their way of life. In consequence, their beliefs will impinge on their everyday activities and, in particular, on their interaction with others. It follows that such a person will not wish to undertake any activity that involves participating in or facilitating the carrying out of practices by others which he considers sinful for himself.
This year we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade. It represented the lifetime work of William Wilberforce, acting in public life in accordance with his Christian conviction that slavery was wrong in principle. Like Christians today, Wilberforce’s faith was the compass that guided the conduct of his daily life.
This raises an initial issue. If the regulations are dealing with orientation only, they cannot have the effect of requiring anyone to do anything in the nature of participation in or facilitating practical acts. The tone of the regulations and of the consultation paper that preceded them suggests that they are intended to outlaw discrimination arising from a wish not to be implicated in homosexual practice where it is the practice, rather than merely the orientation, that is objected to.
If, as I believe, the regulations are intended to make it unlawful to refuse to facilitate homosexual acts, then it is obvious that those who practise a faith that considers homosexual activity to be sinful are being subjected to a law that seeks to over-ride their consciences.
The regulations include, in addition to the discrimination provisions, provision against harassment. If person “A” subjects person “B” to harassment in any circumstances relevant for the purpose of these regulations where, on the grounds of sexual orientation, A engages in unwanted conduct, then that has the purpose or effect of violating B’s dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading or humiliating or offensive environment for B. What does this mean? The consultation paper had said the Government was minded not to deal with harassment in these regulations, as this could more appropriately be done later.
How does the harassment provision affect a teacher of religious education who believes he should teach that marriage, with the purpose of procreating children of the marriage, is a better way forward for our society than any other lifestyle? If a student happens to be of homosexual orientation, will his dignity be violated? If the teacher says that some religions (including the one of which he is an adherent) teach that homosexual practice is sinful, will he be breaching this provision?
I’ve written before how I think that the laws on the provision of goods and services are broadly a good thing, but now I’m starting to have a rethink. The SORs seem to be producing a clear test case for whether this country will in any sense maintain it’s Christian heritage, being respectful and tolerant of alternative (unholy?) lifestyle choices but not allowing them to be enshrined into the law of the land. How can the monarch of the country be enthroned in a Christian ceremony when the law of the land denies Christians the right to live their lives and to provide goods and services in line with the Gospel?
By all means introduce the SORs, but then let’s not pretend that we are a Christian nation and demand that the church fulfils any institutional obligations some might demand of us when the state starts prosecuting Christians for simply preaching what the Scriptures say.