The Roman Catholic Church is asking the Government for exemption for its adoption agencies from forthcoming equality legislation that will require adoption agencies to place children with homosexual couples who wish to adopt. Their position is being presented as discrimination against gays; but the matter is much more complex than this.
‘Discrimination’ is a word that has become troubled by the tension between its two meanings: positively, the ability to make a choice as to which is the better of two options (discriminating between); and, negatively, the persecution of those who differ from us because they differ from us (discriminating against).
There is a significant difference between equality legislation and anti-discrimination legislation; between an equality position, or ideology, and an anti-discrimination position, or ideology. Equality recognises that the rights of people who differ from us in some way need to be affirmed. Anti-discrimination fails to recognise that the rights of people who differ from us in some way need to be affirmed.
Anti-discrimination by necessity simply shifts the focus or direction of discriminating against another, because it denies the possibility of discriminating between two groups; whereas equality deconstructs the act of discriminating against another, by affirming the possibility of discerning between two groups. Equality says, you are as good as me. Anti-discrimination says, you need to recognise that I am better than you.
It strikes me that the Roman Catholic position is an equality position: they acknowledge the right of homosexual couples living in a secular society that affirms civil partnerships in law to adopt children; and want to refer such couples to the secular social services adoption agencies who can assist them to do so. On the other hand, it strikes me that those who oppose the Roman Catholic position hold an anti-discrimination position: they do not see room for a group within society who hold a view different to their own, and oppose the right to hold, as a matter of conscience, a different view.
One of the marks of a mature society is the willingness to affirm those who differ from us, as opposed to the insistence of homogeneity, or uniformity. Another mark of a mature society is its capacity to uphold exemptions in law. For example, women living in the UK have a legal right to the termination of pregnancy. However, GPs are not required to perform this procedure: some will advise women, and refer them to another GP if they wish to proceed; some will advise but not even refer. And that is considered acceptable, as a matter of conscience. Neither the legal right of women nor the moral right of medics are violated.
Moving from society as a whole to groups within society, if we are secure in our identity, we will take a stand to ask that we are respected by those who differ from us; but beyond that we will not see the need to demand our rights. Instead, we will lay down our rights, and take a stand for the rights of others. If we are secure in our identity, we will not need to belittle those who differ from us.
I am neither a Roman Catholic nor a homosexual. But I would want to respect both – which first requires a commitment to love both, because it is not possible to respect someone you do not love, however inadequately; and all the more so when you disagree with them on issues that matter to you. And I would want to affirm the right of homosexuals to be served by adoption agencies, and the right of Roman Catholic adoption agencies to serve homosexuals by referring them to other agencies. That would seem to me the measured response our multi-cultural, multi-ideological society needs and yet appears to be lacking…
religion and sexuality , discrimination , British society