Monday, 21 October 2013

Murdo Fraser's stigmatising questions of equal marriage

Murdo Fraser
Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser has laid down four questions that make for rather worrying reading when taken as a whole in relation to the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill that is progressing through Holyrood.

The first:

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will amend the Marriage and Civil Partnership (Scotland) Bill to state that the current definition of marriage is a belief worthy of respect in a democratic society.

Now I believe in freedom of speech. So I would want to protect people right to say that they disagree with the definition of marriage. Nobody should be forced to change the way they practice marriage, but the state can lead the way and at the same time enable faith groups to follow if they choose. In fact that was the reason that when it came to drafting Scottish Liberal Democrat policy on this that we let faith groups decide for themselves if they wanted to bring in same-sex marriage within their group.

However, when you lift the right of someone to say they disagree to the level of a belief there is a problem. Opposition to same-sex couples getting married in and of itself is not a complete belief structure. Indeed there are many people within most of the faith groups who disagree on this point to varying degrees. Some will oppose it absolutely, some oppose it within any faith group, some only within their faith group but are happy for others that want to to go ahead and others that are open to it however it happens. There is no straight forward belief in how people are opposed to same-sex couples getting married. It is as diverse a belief system as the faith groups themselves. 

Which leads to the second question:

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will seek to amend the Equality Act 2010 to (a) include in the protected characteristic of religion or belief, support for the current definition of marriage and (b) ensure that people opposed to same-sex marriage should not experience any detriment because of their views.

Here as I said above even those within faith groups have differing views on the current definition of marriage. What the current Bill is seeking to do is to respect whatever decision each faith group comes to via its own governance and procedures. In Scotland we have less state control of religion than in England and Wales. 

This amendment would seek to ensure that people opposed to same-sex marriage should not experience any detriment because of their views. But what if them avoiding detriment comes to their views comes at the detriment of those in a same-sex marriage. You cannot impose a cover all as this amendment does. Imagine an extreme example:

"I'm sorry my Lord, but I disagree with same-sex marriage and when I found out the couple next door were 'gay married' I collapsed our connecting wall unto them stoning them to death as stated in Leviticus 20:13 I should do with man who lies with another man. But under the amendment to the Equality Act 2010 I should not suffer any detriment for acting upon my views."

Extreme maybe, but if that amendment were to be added to the equality act as it is written is there really any response that a court could make to such a defence?

Then unto question three:

To ask the Scottish Government, if same-sex marriage was introduced, what its position is on whether it would be appropriate for public sector employers to take into account the views on this of (a) applicants for posts and (b) staff when considering their suitability for employment.

Now public sector employees cover a wide gamut of positions.

First there is the obvious front line position of registrars who would have to carry out same-sex marriages. Mind you these people already carry out marriages between people of faith and those without (which their beliefs could oppose), same sex couples in civil partnerships, and even divorcees. We do not see Murdo Fraser or anyone else for that matter wanting these believes about the current definition of marriage being similarly protested.

Also what about in the workplace. Will people engaged in same-sex marriages be allowed of have pictures of their spouse and family around their work station, or would the objector who has their opposite-sex spouse and family on his object and force that to be taken down?

Then there are other public servants, the police who have to deal with homophobic abuse against a same sex couple who are married. Medical staff who would have to admit the spouse of a same-sex marriage into a patients room when only family are allowed. The benefits officer adjudicating on the benefits that a couple deserve as a respect of their marriage. Etc, etc. 

In other words as far as public servants go they have to serve the public. Their views cannot get in the way of them carrying out their duties. I know that this question was aimed solely at the task of registrars, but by being so openly worded to avoid looking targeted and openly homophobic in one area of public service, there is no way that such an open ended statement can be allowed anywhere near this Bill or its consequences.

Which leads to the final question:

To ask the Scottish Government whether it will amend the Charities and Trustee Investment (Scotland) Act 2005 to specify that organisations opposed to same-sex marriage will not fail to meet the charity test because of this view.

Now I thought the aim of all the charities in Scotland was to help those in need. Whether that is adults or children. Would a charity aimed at helping children not help a child if their parents were or had been in a same-sex marriage. Would a charity fail to help someone because there were in a same-sex marriage, if they were hungry, thirsty, needed clothes, were sick or  in prison. Because if they failed on any of these definitions of charity they fail not just the charity test laid down in law but that laid down by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46. 

So Murdo is looking to protect faith charities from one part of the bible by allowing them to break another part of it. If they want to provide a charity they should follow the examples of the one they base their faith on surely. He didn't seem to differentiate between those worthy of his charity and those who didn't. In fact he broke the norms of his time reaching out to those groups that those of his faith felt were unclean, rather than banishing them from his help.

All of these 'amendments' from Murdo Fraser are probably meant to address very specific areas but in order to appear to not be stigmatising people who will become married to a same-sex partner  he has opened his parameters wide. The result is that in trying not to focus on particularly homophobic language and instances he has opened the gap far too wide. 

It shows total disregard to his first question looking for respect in a democratic society. If people who are opposed to same-sex marriage want to be respected in a democratic society they should also respect those who want to be married to a same-sex partner. That respect will allow them to disagree without discriminating.

Those of us who support equal marriage also support freedom of expression. Our expression doesn't impinge on those who object, but their trying to squeeze how far our equality goes does make some of our number more anti allowing them to keep their freedoms.

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