What we should – and shouldn’t – be arguing about on SORS
I’ve managed to give the mainland SORS a good read now and they are much better than the legislation that affects Northern Ireland. I’m disappointed though that some Christians are still objecting to specific aspects of the legislation and ignoring others. Let’s actually sit down and think this through sensibly.
- The objection to Christian B&B owners having to let their rooms to gay couples or printers having to print gay material is specious and smacks of base homophobia. On reflection I simply don’t understand it. All of us, in our everyday life, acquiesce and support the sinful actions of those around us. What about the Christian travel agent who sells a holiday to Ibiza to a group of young men. Does he think they’re not going there for an orgy of beer and sex? What about the Christian builder constructing a new hospital? Does he not build part of it because it’s going to be an STD clinic, handing out free condoms or a private hospital providing abortions?
The truth is that we live alongside, and implictly economically support sin every day. Since when is gay sex a worse sin than buying huge amounts of Chocolate Easter Eggs that have probably come from Cocoa produced on Ivory Coast bonded labour farms? My plea to my friends who are supporting this aspect of the campaign is that they sit down and look at it properly. Are they really concerned with freedom of conscience on this issue or are they just being homophobic? I believe a rational calm perspective would uncover the truth, however painful.
- Where freedom of conscience is in danger however is over free speech. The mainland SORS have dropped the NI version’s prohibition in clause 3 on using language or creating an environment where someone who self-identifies as gay feels threatened or demeaned. I think the Government have rightly seen that this is a very dangerously ambiguous piece of legislation and therefore have dropped it. The issue remains though – if the Government have dropped it for the mainland why is it still in place in Northern Ireland? Why is it legal here in England for me to hold a public, non-religious meeting and say that I don’t think homosexual practice is godly, but if someone in Northern Ireland does that it might be construed as being demeaning to someone who identifies as gay and therefore liable for prosecution?
Speaking to a senior member of the opposition this morning I was informed that this very point was raised at yesterday’s committee (more on that below) and the Government simply refused to answer.
- There are still questions to be raised about sacramental practice outside a church. I’m pretty clear from the mainland SORS that as a “Clerk in Holy Orders” I am not subject to the legislation with respect to my activities in church. But what about outside? The regulations are ambiguous as they stand. What if I was a lay person, holding a Christian meeting I had organised outside a church, and I refused communion to someone who I knew was in a same-sex relationship? Would I be liable for prosecution then?
- There is also the issue as to how these regulations are being railroaded through Parliament. Opposition members and even the Shadow Attorney General tried to table points of order at yesterday’s committee meeting. They were ignored. The Government ministers took up all but 3 minutes of the 90 minutes alloted for discussion. How is that a debate? My hope and prayer is that the Opposition makes an issue of this and forces a Commons debate – not necessarily to block the regulations (that is hardly likely to happen) but simply to allow proper discussion.
- Where is the mainstream media reporting this? No where I can see. I have written to the BBC this morning asking why not.
- Finally, did you notice that the Government slipped in a Clause that equates Civil Partnership with marriage? Clause 3:4 says:
For the purposes of paragraphs (1) and (3), the fact that one of the persons (whether or not B) is a civil partner while the other is married shall not be treated as a material difference in the relevant circumstances.
In case you don’t understand Parliamentary speak, that means that it’s illegal to establish any difference between marriage and civil partnership. You can’t use “oh but he’s not married, he’s a civil partner” as a reasonable excuse for discrimination. This puts to bed the fantasy proclaimed by the Government that civil partnerships are not meant to be marriage in all but name.
As always, I’d be grateful for your comments.
Peter – I understand your first point but, maybe as a result of having become more of a libertarian in the last few years, I can see the point of those who say that people should be able to restrict the activities going on in their own homes as they wish. What makes a government think that they have the right to tell people that they must not allow others to smoke in their “public houses” (pubs are really rpivate homes thrown open to the public, are they not?) but then also insist that they must not discriminate against (legal) sexual activity. In other words, it would be morally wrong to refuse gays and smokers a room in my B&B (although is it the government’s business to keep me on the right moral track in this respect?) but should I not have the freedom to decide whether in my home people are or are not allowed to smoke or have extra-marital (or marital) sex? It may be impractical or stupid to make such restrictions but should it be illegal?
As far as printers are concerned, I entirely agree that it is pernicious to refuse to print someone’s material on the grounds of their sexual orientation, skin colour, hair colour etc. but refusing to print material promoting certain activities seems to me of a different order. To argue that Christians should have fewer qualms in this area is one thing, to say that their freedom to decide whether or not to go along should be removed is another. What do you think?
I understand where you’re coming from Thomas. I’ve grappled with this over the past few weeks.
I just can’t get past the fact that I think some of the objections to the goods and services section of the legislation stem from homophobia. There are better ways to deal with not printing what you don’t want to print – simply have a blanket ban on all sexual material.
I suppose it depends what you mean by homophobia? Rejection of the person, or rejection of the sexuality?
Peter – it may well be that some of the objections stem from rejection of persons with a homosexual orientation; in fact, it seems likely. Such homophobia needs to be tackled, certainly in the church and depending on your political convictions it may be quite all right for the state to reduce someone’s freedom to punish their nastiness.
For a printer to ban the promotion of any sexual activity may be a way forward but (a) I am not entirely sure that this is legally possible and (b) it may be open to challenge re definition of sexual activity – would a (self-imposed) ban on printing anything to do with sexual activities prohibit a printer to help promote a marriage enrichment weekend, if this may include discussion of sexual issues? What’s the situation with regard to religion? Does a printer -at present- need to have a self-imposed ban on promoting any religious activities to decline printing invitations to an Islamic rally?
In other words, I am weary of a law which deprives printers (or any workers for that matter) of the freedom to decide which causes deserve their time and energy and which don’t.
Same with B&B – some (few, many, most?) owners objecting to the SOR may do so out of base homophobic instincts. But should legislation force such people to behave better, while at the same time removing the freedom from those who are not homophobic? Or do we think that B&B owners who object to the SOR are by definition homophobic? What about a B&B owner who has strong same-sex attractions but wants to live a life in accordance with traditional Christian teaching and therefore prefers not to have certain same-sex affections displayed in his house? Just wondering.