Friday, July 11, 2008

A battle of equalities - or the onset of culture wars?

It's hard to know what to make of the Lillian Ladele case. But it has plenty of elements to make various people's blood boil. Discrimination on the basis of religion. Discrimination on the basis of sexuality. (Which puzzles me as talking about equality between marriage and civil partnerships is a total oxymoron.) And of course it had to happen in Islington.

Now I've not yet had a chance to read the tribunal outcome but from what I've seen in the media the tribunal focused on the point of whether or not she was being bullied in the workplace for her religion and whether Islington was still able to deliver the service rather than over whether she was right to refuse to perform civil partnership ceremonies. (As an aside if you were entering into a civil partnership wouldn't you want a registrar who actually wanted to do the job, rather than one who was forced to by their employer and the law?) Also a point that hasn't received that much attention is that the nature of the job has changed since she took it - until late 2007 Islington registrars were effectively working freelance and thus her colleagues were taking civil partnerships and so it wasn't an issue. (The Guardian: Paying to be discriminated against - The decision in favour of a registrar who refused to deal with gay couples sets a hugely dangerous precedent) So it's not a case of someone taking up a job even though they disagreed with part of what it entailed - the requirements of the job changed whilst she was in post. This may also have some bearing on whether or not it was possible to resign.

But what is worrying is the way that so much of the reaction to the tribunal outcome is deeply polarised, going beyond the issue of the balance between equality of religion and equality of sexuality and into what feels scarily like the opening shots in something like the US "culture war". Some of the comments I've seen on the web have been incredibly anti-religious whilst other comments sound like a gloating victory over "political correctness". Naturally the case emerging from the UK's answer to San Francisco adds to fuel to the fire.

For a long time issues of both religion and personal behaviour have traditionally been regarded as "issues of conscience" and not made party political issues. Quite apart from the party management advantage it has also meant that the parties have not been divided down such lines and the UK has for the most part avoided the US "Red States-Blue States" divide that leads to radicals on each side almost demonising the other and making control over issues such as education ridiculously tense. And it encourages minority mentalities whereby particular groups in society get told they must support a party not because they agree with it on the basics but because only that party looks out for it and the other hates it. In turn it leads to a belief that when the other party is in control everything will be bad.

Some of that last paragraph doesn't sound too dissimilar to behaviour in certain quarters of UK politics does it? Is this really to the benefit of the country?

1 comment:

Andy said...

Any issue that really gets under people's skin and attracts genuine, heartfelt support for one side of the argument or the other produces this kind of situation, surely? It's not "worrying" that such issues stir up strong remarks, simply a sign that issues such as this one are genuinely important to people.


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