Catholic Discrimination Agencies
A battle has been raging in Britain for some months now over new anti-discrimination legislation being introduced by the government. Under the new laws, no adoption agency will be allowed to reject any application from potential parents on the grounds of their sexual orientation. The objection from the Catholic Church has been as fierce as it has been unfounded. They do not oppose the law completely, but they want to be exempt from it on the grounds that by allowing homosexual parents to adopt, they would be going against Catholic teaching.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales said, in a letter to the Prime Minister,
“We believe it would be unreasonable, unnecessary and unjust discrimination against Catholics for the government to insist that if they wish to continue to work with local authorities, Catholic adoption agencies must act against the teaching of the Church and their own consciences by being obliged in law to provide such a service.”
Support has been quick to follow from the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said,
“ . . . rights of conscience cannot be made subject to legislation, however well-meaning”.
Most despicably, in my opinion, were threats that if the Catholic adoption agencies were not exempt from the law, they would have to close. This, also from Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor’s letter,
“It would be an unnecessary tragedy if legislation forced the closure of these adoption services, thereby significantly reducing the potential resources of adoptive families for the approximately 4,000 children currently waiting for adoption placements.”
I’ve not been a big fan of the Labour government in recent years, but I give credit where it is due. They stood firm. From a speech by Tony Blair,
“There is no place in our society for discrimination. That’s why I support the right of gay couples to apply to adopt like any other couple.
“And that way there can be no exemptions for faith-based adoption agencies offering public funded services from regulations that prevent discrimination.”
What this amounts to, is the Catholic Church complaining that their right to discriminate is being discriminated against, a tactic that has been a favourite of theirs throughout history.
Any crime can be classed as a ‘right of conscience’ – a racist may truly believe, through his conscience, that he has the right to attack a black person. This really was a non-argument from the Archbishop. The purpose of the new laws is to protect people from discrimination. If we were to offer exemptions to anyone wanting to discriminate against anyone or anything else through a ‘right of conscience’, no such law would ever hold up in practice. How exactly would we define a ‘right of conscience’? How would we objectively decide who had a genuine ‘right of conscience’ and who was just trying to exploit a legal loophole? Legislation can, and should account for this.
Liberty and equality are mutually exclusive. Legislation that enforces equality of one group, by definition deprives every one else of the freedom to discriminate against them. This is a good thing!
But don’t we value freedom and liberty? Shouldn’t, say, a small private company have the right to refuse employment to homosexuals? If you’re simply looking at the freedom of the company’s owners, in isolation, a case can be made. However, if you allow it, you set a precedent. If every other company in the country then exercises their right to refuse employment to homosexuals, then homosexuals would be deprived of their right to work and earn a living, which would cause them grievous harm. In stark contrast, it would do the company no harm at all to have homosexuals working for them. It’s a case of balance.
So, is the government discriminating against the Catholic Church? You’re damn right they are, and a good thing too. The harm caused to the Catholic Church from allowing homosexuals to adopt is next to nothing, but the harm caused to homosexuals by not being allowed to adopt children is extremely great and serious. Imagine the suffering of a couple with all the love in the world to bestow upon a child, the financial grounding to provide for a child, the morals and values to teach a child, and no child to be the object of their affection. Catholics would value their pride at a greater price.
Any law of this nature has to be fully enforced or it is effectively useless. As MP Harriet Harman elegantly put it,
“You can either be against discrimination or you can allow for it. You can’t be a little bit against discrimination.”
The Catholic adoption agencies have no rational grounds, all things being equal, on which to turn down homosexual applicants. Many years of research has shown that children raised by homosexuals, either individuals or couples, grow up just the same as children raised by heterosexual parents, or even in some cases, better off (see here and here). What matters to a child, is not the gender or sexual orientation of her parents, but that she is loved, cared for, provided for and taught the morals and values that underpin a tolerant society.
They can’t fight the problem at the source either. They have only religious dogma with which to criticise homosexuality itself. The facts cannot be ignored, two consenting adults who enjoy a relationship which makes them happy and harms absolutely no-one, cannot possibly be wrong, in any sense or context we know.
And yet, in spite of all this, the Catholic adoption agencies are prepared to use 4,000 innocent children as pawns in a political game of blackmail and hypocrisy. They scream the odds at their right to discriminate being discriminated, and in the process miss the irony of their defence – that due to Catholic doctrine, allowing homosexuals to adopt would make hypocrites of them. Well, all I can say is that if it hasn’t bothered them for nearly 2,000 years, I don’t see why it should be any different now.
I am proud of the government, particularly Tony Blair, who could have let his own Christian beliefs compromise his political integrity, for standing up to the Church on this issue. I only hope that it sets a tone for the future, whereby the long standing dogmas of religious faith may be replaced by tolerant, liberal initiatives, such as the anti-discrimination laws. This has only given homosexual would-be parents what they have always deserved, but it is a step in the right direction. One of many, I hope.