Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Should a Registrar have the Right to Refuse?

BBC NEWS has the story of a registrar in Islington who says she should have the right to refuse to perform civil partnerships because she deems them "sinful" according to her Christian beliefs. She's taking the council to court using the legislation that came in as a part of the same set of rules that protect people from workplace discrimination for all sorts of reasons, including sexuality.

It seems like she's picking and choosing what she thinks is sinful, mind. If she's a registrar, then she'll be marrying a lot of divorcees and also a large number of sham marriages that are taking place for the sake of someone's right to remain in the country. Neither of which uphold the Christian values she so rigorously wishes to apply to civil partnerships. That would be civil partnerships which are not to be confused with marriage and are not in any way allowed to include any religious content.

Add to that the questionable basis for her views - the Christian churches are in quite a tizzy about the whole issue of homosexuality. Odd, when we've recently had a bishop talking about how people should pay more attention to the same-sex romances in the Bible (David and Jonathan and Jesus and John being the most obvious examples). As issues go, it seems to be a whole crown of thorns, which is such a terrible shame because it dilutes the basically wonderful core messages contained within most faiths - respect for one another, forgiveness and humility.

I'd feel quite sick were I to find out that when I go to get married, um, to sign a civil partnership thingy, that the registrars had been swapping shifts to avoid the gays. I'd similarly be peeved if it turned out that I had a sour-faced registrar who thought we had no right to be there. It's quite a reminder that London's still got a lot of work to do to get its house in order on diversity and if this is meant to be one of the most gay-friendly places in the world, I think it's important to strive to ensure it's a safe, welcoming place for people from all kinds of backgrounds.

I know this is a familiar tangent, but I bet the blouse she's wearing in that photo mixes fibres.

Not wishing to undertake certain tasks because of your beliefs is all well and good, but I struggle with the idea that you're legally protected if they're religious beliefs, but you're not if they're beliefs based on any other grounds. If Scientologists had some poor GCSE student's stuff taken off him because they were upset that his placard said they were a cult (as high court judges have said in the past, too) then I'm wondering what else you could try to justify on the grounds of your beliefs.

I just find attitudes like this baffling. I mean, I don't particularly want to know what she gets up to in the bedroom, so why the big fuss about what Jonotron and I might get up to? Something like homosexuality really doesn't, in itself, do any harm. I'd guess it's more likely that the gays, bisexuals, trannies, lesbians and other people of extra-ordinary sexuality are going to be the victims of harm than that they'll somehow terrorise the nation with their bawdy and lewd behaviour. Holding hands in public? Call the police!

I really can't see what the big deal is.

However, before we run off in a homo-er than thou rage, let's try to be clear. If she is being persecuted at work because of her religion, then that is unfair discrimination, but it really shouldn't change the fact that her job has changed and she's either got to change with it or change jobs. If she only wants to conduct marriages for nice heterosexual couples, she should consider becoming a priest. Apparently the church is fine with that, too. Funny how things change. Next thing you know they'll have openly gay men being put forward for jobs as bishops.


Sir Wobin said...

Why stop at objecting to civil unions? She should also probably object to women having any paid employment and be put back in the kitchen without the right to vote. Just like god intended.

Bah! Religions are silly.

Doug said...

The Christian church is indeed in a major, major tizzy about teh gay. (And also about whether it's Ok to have women in positions of authority. Bless 'em, only a century late.)

I'm really not very hopeful long term, to be honest. The debate is increasingly polarised, with the liberal wing of Anglicanism (some UK, mostly North American) and UK Methodism on one side (plus the very cool but numerically negligible hippy churches), and the conservative wing of Anglicanism, Catholicism, and the overwhelming majority of Evangelicals on the other.

It's bad enough that the debate is so polarised. The long-term worrying thing is that the membership of the liberal churches is falling through the floor and has been for decades, whereas the membership of the conservative ones is on the up and up.

The Pirate King said...

Dare we say it, but perhaps we need a Church of England that's actually a Church, of England. A big old schism might be fun and I'm sure if Anglicans got over the whole fear of offending people they could reclaim a position of moral authority in this country.

Scott K said...

You're right, you are extra-ordinary. Don't ever change :)