Consider these two stories, both of which are fairly current:
1. In the UK, the British government has told Catholic adoption agencies they must comply with new laws which prohibit discrimination against same-sex couples seeking to adopt children, as must all adoption agencies. The agencies have two years to comply with the rules, and in the interim they have a statutory duty to refer would-be adoptive couples to other agencies. Predictably, the Catholics have responded with anger and warnings of ‘a new morality‘ being imposed by government via the workings of the UK Equality Act 2006. The Catholics don’t like the idea of a new morality because the old morality, in which they were legally entitled to discriminate against people on the basis of their religious superstitions, suited them just fine.
2. In Australia, where it’s an election year, the federal government has announced plans to ban same-sex couples from adopting children overseas. This is somewhat old news, as the legislation has been announced before, but it wasn’t an election year then. Last time it was an election year, the same federal government outlawed same-sex marriage (not that it was legal or anything). The Catholics and their fellow travellers applauded that action (which was supported by the lickspittle Labor opposition) and no doubt they are now drafting sermons in support of this move too.
The contrast between Australia and its former colonial power is clear. Britain is demonstrating that it is a confident, secular nation which cares deeply about the principles of non-discrimination. The British government’s actions on to bring adoption agencies into line with that principle have drawn considerable protest from the god-botherers, as did their decision to legislate for same-sex civil unions a few years ago, but Blair and his team have shrugged that off, as they should.
In Australia, anti-discrimination legislation at all levels of government universally provides an exemption for religious organisations. In most cases, this exemption permits the churches to discriminate against gay men and lesbians even in activities which are unrelated to their ‘core business’ of proselytism and ministry — so Catholic employment agencies, Catholic welfare agencies, Catholic hospitals, schools, homeless shelters and so on are all free to discriminate against individuals based on their gender, race or sexual orientation. Why is this allowed? Do we really believe discrimination is wrong, or not? I can (just) accept that some people carry these antediluvian superstitions in their head about Heaven, Hell and the rest, but I can’t see why this should qualify them for an exemption from the law.
The reasons why politicians allow this nonsense to persist are, of course, cynical in intent. Politicians pander to the churches to shore up their political support.
The churches continue to wield a great deal of influence in Australia, as they do in many countries including Britain. The British government doesn’t seem too deeply bothered by the prospect of an anti-government backlash from the pulpit, but in Australia the memories of the dark age of the DLP and Cardinal Mannix, when for two decades our political process was hijacked by the Catholic church, are still fresh — fresh enough that I don’t expect a lot of opposition from the ALP on this latest anti-gay move. They may even vote for it.
The argument behind all this posturing is familiar: children have a right to a mother and father, we’re told. But of course many kids don’t have a father and mother, for lots of reasons, and this has always been so. Even when the law changes to give children in same-sex relationships access to their third parent (as was the case earlier this year in Canada) there is an outcry from the religious lobby. The elephant in the room is that this has nothing to do with children’s rights and everything to do with perpetuating discrimination against normal, loving people who happen to be homosexual and who want to raise a family. The politicians and churches want to shoehorn human behaviour into a narrow, inflexible, and unnatural set of ‘norms’ — and we are the ones accused of ‘social engineering’!
In the 21st century, Australia is a notionally secular country which remains in the thrall of the Christian churches, while Britain, with its constitutionally established church, is an avowedly secular humanist state. Why?