Wednesday, 29 November 2017

SSMD Down Under



There is one English speaking nation in the OECD which has not (yet) legalised same-sex marriage, at all.  (I use the term nation to include the UK, which is a union of four countries, of which one has not legalised same sex marriage.)  In that nation, Australia, there has been a protracted debate, or discussion (the SSMD of the title) and, most recently, a voluntary, non-binding postal survey on whether or not the law should be changed to permit same-sex marriage (SSM).

This was quite odd because the primary argument against legalising SSM seemed to be fundamentally religious – it’s just not the way things should be.  The old chestnut – “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” – encapsulates the notion.  But of the English speaking OECD nations, Australia is the second least religious (after the UK).  So, perhaps it wasn't a religious thing after all.

However, the Australian parliament seems to have a high proportion of god botherers and dyed-in-the-wool conservatives than the average population and some of them were getting desperate in their attempts to stave off the inevitable (polls consistently indicated that majority of Australians, and the vast majority of younger Australians, are in favour of legalising SSM).

For example, one member – Senator Paterson, was the front man for a bill that would legalise SSM, but would enshrine protections for religious freedom.  It seemed like Australia might well be heading towards its own version of the gay wedding cake debacle, depending on how you interpret the right of people to “refuse to participate in a same-sex wedding”.

Oddly enough, I find myself in the position of partially agreeing with the idea of protecting the freedoms of people with religious belief.  I am very much opposed to the idea that a priest should be forced to conduct a same-sex wedding against his convictions (I’m going with the percentages here and making the priest a “he”).  If religious people object to a same-sex wedding being conducted in their church, then those people should be able to shop around for a priest or pastor who shares their prejudices.  If a religious person doesn’t want to attend a homosexual marriage ceremony, then nobody should be forcing them to attend.

I find it a little odd that homosexual people (men in particular) would want to get married by an organisation that is guided by a book in which it is clearly stated that men who lie with men should be put to death.  But if a particular church is going gloss over that minor detail and put their god’s seal of approval on an SSM, then I suppose that’s fine.  And if a deeply (or indeed shallowly) religious person doesn’t want to attend a homosexual marriage ceremony, then nobody should be forcing them to attend.  (Were I planning to get married, I would prefer not to have people there who want to kill me.  It’d rather put a damper on things.)

But outside of that, it starts getting a little more complicated.  Should an artisan be required to produce a work of art celebrating an event that they have religious objections to, if asked to?  Should a more mundane craftsperson (like a baker) be required to produce some product for such an event?  Should the owner of an events locale be required to host the reception of newly wed homosexuals, despite religious misgivings?

Probably no.

I don’t agree that people necessarily should be stupid enough to believe that there’s some sort of god who was the ghost writer of a poorly-written instruction manual that is, in parts, thoroughly homophobic, but the fact is that we still have such people in our world.

My suggested solution is quite simple.  Private organisations should be permitted to discriminate when offering services for payment.  But only if they make it perfectly clear that this is their policy, including in any and all marketing they conduct.  If they don’t make it clear or make it insufficiently clear that they are prejudiced, then they must accept all comers.  And if their objections are religious, then they should have the courage of their convictions and be consistent in their prejudice.

So, for example, a reception hall who are discriminating on the basis of their religion would be required to have a prominent sign outside saying that they don’t permit receptions for anyone who has broken the laws of their god.  So no receptions for homosexuals, no receptions for brides who are not virgins, no receptions for people who work on the sabbath, no receptions for people who wear clothes of mixed fabric.

If a baker was discriminating on the basis of his conservatism, the same would apply, although the sign (and associated marketing) would probably have to make clear the full range of his prejudices: no homosexuals, no mixed-race unions, no drifters, no Irish, no atheists, no muslims, no gypsies and no jews.

Sometimes it will just be a single issue, non-affiliated prejudice.  But if a provider of products or service wants to systematically discriminate, why not let them – so long as they clearly indicate that they are carrying out that discrimination?

The result should be that the significant percentage of us who are not so prejudiced would then know where to not spend our money and whose weddings to not attend (because they are holding their reception at the Fifth Reich Resort which clearly advertises its “whites only” policy).  If the more reasonable among us are indeed in the majority, then market forces will come into play and the prejudiced will be dealt with via a form of economic Darwinism.  If we are not, then we need to do some more work and should not be resting on our laurels.

Barely hidden prejudice is, after all, still prejudice.

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Note: I am not being entirely serious here.  A little bit, but not entirely.  If the powers that be in Australia are going to permit discrimination against anyone on religious grounds, then I do believe that those who intend to take advantage of it should be willing to pay the price of being open about their prejudice.  And I reckon that they should be consistent, even if that were to mean that in future my atheism might exclude me from enjoying the fruits of certain bakeries … but consistency has never really been a strong point with the average religious bigot. 

Note also that the wording of a store's prejudiced objection should still be respectful, I am not suggesting a return to days when shops hung out signs blandly saying "No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs".  Perhaps something more honest like:

"The proprietor of this store is legally airing his prejudices in accordance with the Bigoted Bastard Act (BBA 2017) and wishes all patrons to be aware that he is prejudiced against the following groups of people: [strike out all not applicable]

Women/Men/Children/Teenagers/Old People/Single People/Married People/People Living Together in Sin/Heterosexuals/Homosexuals/Metrosexuals/Whites/Blacks/Asians/Orientals/Hispanics/Indigenous/Canadians/Red Necks/Intellectuals/Geeks/Jocks/Feminists/Manpriders/Liberals/Conservatives/Football Fans/Hockey Fans/Soccer Fans/Baseball Fans/Star Wars Fans/Grammar Nazis/Plain Old Nazis/Conspiracy Nuts/Others (as listed below)

Furthermore, this prejudice will take the form of [strike out all not applicable]: No Soup For You/No Drink For You/No Cake For You/No Food For You/No Accounting For You/Other (as listed below)"

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I wrote this a week or so ago, and have thought further on the risks of forcing an artisan to create a piece of art against his or her religious beliefs.  I suspect the artist was not forced to take on this commission, but the artwork below hints at some sort of disagreement about the values involved:




The statue was commissioned for a Catholic school with some, ahem, shall we say "history".  Amusingly, the statue is now covered - with the child still in there, snuggled up to the saint's loaf, but now hidden under the cassock (well, it looks more like a burka than a cassock, but hopefully the allusion isn't entirely lost).