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“Equal” rights?

February 13, 2011

It’s been fairly quiet on the writing front here for me, mainly because I’ve been manically writing for my theology course. But, I need distraction from my current efforts, so what better way than a rant about how “equal” rights are reported.

There’s a story on the BBC website describing plans by the government to lift a ban on same-sex couples marrying in religious buildings/institutions.

Early in the story is the following sentence:

There are no plans to compel religious organisations to hold ceremonies and the Church of England has said it would not allow its churches to be used.

My first reaction to the first of this was “fine, that’s ok”. Is it? Consider rights in other situations. In recruitment, I am compelled to treat others equally – I cannot deny employment to suitable people just because I dislike their gender, race or sexuality. If I own a shop or B&B, I cannot refuse service to people based on their gender, race or sexuality. If we step back from the image of marriage as a religious “institution” and view it as an expression of love and commitment between two people, what is it that means we shouldn’t compel equality of treatment? I’m not sure.

The second half of the sentence got me annoyed. I read the phrase “the Church of England has said it would not allow its churches to be used” as saying the same as “the Church of England has said it will discriminate against gay people”. To see a sentence with that message put forward without at least some critical response is awful.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, gave the news a guarded welcome.

He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show he “believes in a liberal democracy, and actually wants equality with everybody” but did not want churches to be told what to do.

“You mustn’t have rights that trump other rights,” he added.

He wants equality for everyone, as long as he doesn’t have to be responsible for providing that equality. What rights is he afraid of losing? The right to not officiate at marriage ceremonies for gay people? If he genuinely wants equality, the Archbishop should be willing to marry any couple that love each other.

The Roman Catholic Church has long held that homosexuality is a “deviation” and is not expected to agree to same-sex ceremonies.

We live in the 21st century, we think we live in a wonderful world with equal rights for all. To see this in a BBC report without it being treated with the disgust that it deserves speaks volumes about the privileged position achieved by religious ideas and the consequent discrimination that they enforce. Some views are not equal, and in a liberal democracy striving towards the best for everyone, religious ideas like those above should be thrown on to the waste pile.

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