Saturday, 3 March 2007

Religious discrimination

This post on Fr Tim Finigan's website horrifies me - how have we let our faith become so disrepected?

For those who are unfamiliar with the British legislative process, there are various types of statutory provision in the UK which have the force of law. Acts of Parliament are one type. They have to be debated in Parliament, approved by both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and receive Royal Assent before they become law. An Act of Parliament may confer powers on Ministers to make more detailed orders, rules or regulations by means of statutory instruments. The Act often contains only a broad framework, and statutory instruments are used to provide the necessary detail.

Statutory instruments (such as the regulations on discrimination) are as much part of the law of the land as Acts of Parliament. The courts can question whether a minister, on issuing regulations, is using a power he has actually been given by the parent Act, but cannot question the validity of the regulations for any other reason. Whether an instrument is subject to parliamentary procedure is determined by the parent Act.

The power to make the Sexual Orientation Regulations is conferred by section 81 of the Equality Act 2006. The powers are wide-ranging, but the Act does require a draft of the regulations to be laid before and approved by both Houses, so at least in this case there is some parliamentary scrutiny (though less than if the detailed provisions had been included in the Act).

The Equality Act also forbids discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief (not that there's been any publicity about that bit). However, there are various 'get-outs', including one in section 56 which (paraphrasing slightly) says that discrimination on religious grounds is still permitted where such discrimination is necessary for the purpose of complying with any form of legislation. In other words, the government is allowed by law to introduce and enforce legislation which discriminates on the grounds of religion.

There's been a lot of talk in the media about how dreadful discrimination against homosexuals is, and how it's as bad as racial discrimination or discrimination against the disabled, because they're born that way and they can't help it.

Well, I'm sorry, but that's utter rubbish. As Fr Tim points out, it is homosexual acts that our faith considers sinful. And everyone has a choice of whether or not to perform a particular act. I was born heterosexual, and my Church teaches me that sex before marriage is wrong, so I don't do it. I have had two relationships which could have led to marriage, and one of them broke up largely because my boyfriend couldn't accept my refusal to sleep with him before we were married.

Sadly, it is difficult these days for this argument to be taken seriously, because there are so many Catholics, both heterosexual and homosexual, who openly live together and have sex outside marriage, and who think that this is OK. Maybe the Church needs to be a bit less wishy-washy and point out a bit more often and a bit more forcefully that it's not.

Why is it OK to discriminate against Catholics, but not OK to discriminate against homosexuals? Could it be that the homosexual minority shouts louder in all the right ears? It certainly has a more sympathetic portrayal in the media.

I don't know what the answer is, but I think it's time we started making more noise.

No comments: