Is the Government Backing Down on the Equality Bill?

Simon Sarmiento at Thinking Anglicans has highlighted the fact that the Government has tabled in the Lords an amendment to the Equality Bill which would essentially cave into the position held by the Church of England that churches must be free to employ key workers in line with orthodox doctrine.

The amendment would change the wording of the religious exemption in Schedule 9, 2(8) from

Employment is for the purposes of an organised religion only if the employment wholly or mainly involves—

(a) leading or assisting in the observance of liturgical or ritualistic practices of the religion, or

(b) promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to followers of the religion or to others).

to

Employment is for the purposes of an organised religion only if—

(a) the employment is as a minister of religion, or

(b) the employment is in another post that exists (or, where the post has not previously been filled, that would exist) to promote or represent the religion or to explain the doctrines of the religion (whether to followers of the religion or to others).

Essentially this amendment means that it will be legal for churches to discriminate on the grounds of sexual orientation when employing youth workers, evangelists or any post that involves at an point articulating a matter of doctrine. One could easily see how you could change the job description of most roles to fit this profile (e.g. a receptionist who “might need to explain beliefs to people”).

This still leaves me with one question – if the key issue for conservative Christians is sexual behaviour not sexual orientation, does this amendment now allow churches to discriminate when they shouldn’t?

(8)

Employment is for the purposes of an organised religion only if the

employment wholly or mainly involves—

(a)

leading or assisting in the observance of liturgical or ritualistic

15

practices of the religion, or

(b)

promoting or explaining the doctrine of the religion (whether to

followers of the religion or to others).

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2 Comments on “Is the Government Backing Down on the Equality Bill?

  1. Peter, I agree with you in the sense that I also believe that I should not discriminate purely on whether or not someone is gay, only on the grounds of sexual behaviour. But many people think that discrimination on the grounds of sexual behaviour should be banned too!

    The question in my mind when I think about “equality” and “hate speech” regulation is not where, exactly, to draw the legal line between acceptable and unacceptable discrimination, but whether it is legitimate for a Government to regulate a particular freedom in such minute detail!

    The approach of endlessly looking for the exact lines to draw has allowed Governments to intrude into every aspect of society, private life, religion, free speech etc etc and to disproportionately curtail our freedoms (where they are seen as being “wrong”).

    That was exactly what the Human Rights Declaration was meant to stop in 1947!

    ps I think the the RCs recently decided to not allow anyone who is homosexual to be ordained unless they can show that they are long-term stably celebate and single.

  2. I believe that discrimination against anyone in employment on the grounds of homosexual behaviour is wrong and should be illegal, unless the behaviour is of such a kind that analogous heterosexual behaviour would also be a disciplinary matter.

    But if we were to grant, purely for the sake of argument, that such discrimination were legitimate, how would the discriminatory policy be enforced? Forgive me for quoting from a letter of mine which was published in a Catholic newspaper some years ago:

    “If someone is seen to be spending most of his or her leisure time with a friend of the same sex, is an enquiry into the precise nature of their friendship justified? Should they be questioned on the subject?

    “If people are surmised (for whatever reason) to be homosexual, should they be spied on to try to find out whether they really are? Should they be asked to produce evidence to the contrary? Are periodic check-ups to find out whom they are with late on Saturday night, for example, in order? Is there a need to pry into their private lives to establish whether they are “sexually active”? Should people who are seen around in the company of others who are definitely known to be gay or lesbian be required to explain themselves?

    “If an employee lives with someone of the same sex, should their relationship be investigated? Would it be acceptable to lurk outside their home late at night to see who draws the bedroom curtains and how many bedroom lights go on and off? If someone is seen, for instance, going into a gay bar or club, should they be hauled in and interrogated or threatened with dismissal?”

    As far as I’m concerned, any such procedures as those that I have described above – or anything like them – would be intolerable.

    David, your summary of the policy recently adopted by the Roman Catholic Church is not in fact quite accurate. The policy is that men with “deep-seated homosexual tendencies”, whether celibate or not, should not be ordained. Exactly what percentage of Roman Catholic priests does have “deep-seated homosexual tendencies” is difficult, if not impossible, to quantify, but I would say from my own experience that it’s a considerably higher percentage than in the population at large – sufficiently high to leave a serious “black hole” in the numerical strength of the priesthood if the policy could be enforced and were, and this at a time when the number of vocations to the priesthood is already in serious decline.

    However I fully support the right of the Roman Catholic Church to exclude gay men from its priesthood, and although I regard the policy as misguided in principle, I also, in a paradoxical way, at least partially approve of it.

    I think that there are quite a number of gay Catholic priests who ought not to be priests, and I think that the Catholic Church’s unenlightened teaching on homosexuality and its rule of compulsory celibacy for all clergy combine to invite this situation. To understand how this can be so, you have to put yourself in the shoes of a gay adolescent. As you enter puberty you realise that the interest in, and attraction to, the other sex which your peers are displaying is something that simply isn’t happening to you. Oh well, you tell yourself, I must be a late developer, and you wait patiently for “normal” feelings to develop. They don’t. Instead, you find that all the people who erotically attract you are people of your own sex. You had never expected this! You try to ignore it. You start to have erotic dreams, as all adolescent boys do, but all your dreams are about other guys. If you’re a Catholic, you may try to kill these attractions by devoting an increasing amount of time to prayer, attending Mass, saying the rosary etc. You make special novenas. You go to Confession more frequently. It doesn’t make any difference.

    By the time you get into your late teens you start to think more seriously about your future. Your church teaches that your homosexual orientation is “an intrinsically disordered condition” and that any physical expression of it, no matter what the circumstances, is a sin, so if you can’t change your sexuality to make it fit your faith – and you almost certainly can’t, despite the claims of some fringe psychiatrists and of the “ex-gay” cults – then you have to spend the rest of your life with no prospect of a legitimate loving sexual relationship with anyone – a bleak prospect indeed. Life seems to have no purpose. But you can give your lonely life a purpose, as you mistakenly think, by becoming a Catholic priest. In fact, isn’t it obvious that that must be what God is calling you to do – to be an “alter Christus”? What nobler calling could there be? And since you’ll be celibate, you won’t have to deal with your sexuality at all. Furthermore, if God is really calling you to the priesthood, then clearly you can’t really have this “intrinsically disordered condition” after all, so you can just bury the “issue” for good. But it’s an illusion. It’s rather like shoving an unpaid bill away in a drawer and hoping that it won’t come again.

    The above is, I’m sure, a fair summary of the process by which some (or many?) gay Catholic men who have no vocation to the priesthood manage to convince themselves that they do have one. Although it may be a matter of doing the right thing for the wrong reason, I can’t help but feel that a policy that will go some way to preventing young gay Catholic men in the future from being guilted and entrapped into the priesthood is a good thing. A boyhood friend of mine attempted this ill-advised route as an attempt to “cop out” of being gay. But he was caught “misbehaving” in the seminary (I don’t know whether it was behind the bike sheds or somewhere else) and got thrown out on his left ear. I think that he had a bloody lucky escape. Although I haven’t now seen him for many years, I have every reason to believe that he thinks so too.

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