Thursday, June 08, 2006

Discrimination and Sexual Orientation

I have e-mailed the below to
The deadline for comments is Friday 9th June.

I would like to make a response to the 'Getting Equal' consultation document.

The document is flawed by a consistent conflict between the main text and the examples. The main text refers to discrimination on the basis of (real or perceived) sexual orientation. Yet the examples appear to be cases of discrimination on the basis of behaviour (p42: same sex couple holding hands), or marital status (discounts applicable to married persons not applicable to persons in a civil partnership, p43). It is not explained why or how these examples are examples of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but presumably the reasoning goes like this:

The only reason why someone should object to a same-sex couple holding hands (in his restaurant), given that he doesn't object to a heterosexual couple holding hands, is a wish to discriminate against those of a particular sexual orientation.

And similarly for the discount case.

However this reasoning ignores the possibility that the restaurant owner (or whoever) is making a judgement not about the sexual orientation of the persons at issue, but on the morality of their behaviour or lifestyle. It is perfectly possible to believe that it is morally permissible for a heterosexual couple to hold hands, and at the same time believe that it is not permissible for a homosexual couple to do so (admittedly this is not a great example, but the point remains valid). A restaurant owner who held these beliefs would think that it is more likely to cause justified scandal and upset to his customers to witness displays of affection from a same-sex couple, than it would for them to witness such a display from a heterosexual couple.

This judgement is in NO WAY dependant on and in no way implies discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

As a matter of contemporary cultural fact the kinds of beliefs I have alluded to are associated with certain religious commitments. The impact of the proposed regulations will be, therefore, an effective discrimination against the freedom of conscience and of association of people of certain faiths. It will cause particular problems for religious charities and other institutions, as many of these are committed to employing people whose lives conform to certain moral standards. If discrimination on the basis of moral behaviour and general way of life is understood - as implied in this consultation document - as discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, this will be very harmful for charities and institutions with a religious ethos.


Daniel Hill said...

You may be interested to see my letter in to The Times for Tuesday 4th July (,,59-2254440,00.html):
Sir, [Ben Summerskill argues that “If sexual orientation is innate — or ‘God-given’ — this further supports the argument that lesbian and gay people should not be subject to discrimination” (letter, July 1).] Mr Summerskill confuses orientation and practice. There is no discrimination in the Church of England on grounds of sexual orientation, as the example of Archbishop David Hope shows. Discrimination on the grounds of homosexual practice (Gene Robinson) or disagreement with church teaching on homosexual practice (Jeffrey John) is a different matter.

Macclesfield, Cheshire

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