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07/23/2007

Wherein we actually sort of defend Tony's ability to discriminate

by Jeremy Hooper

 Good As You Images  Good As You Images  Good As You Images  Good As You Images  Good As You Images  Cc Images Serve 0,,1461188,00-1-1Here is a recent passage from our ol' pal at the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins. Enjoy:

Earlier in the week I wrote about thought crimes legislation and the plight of a Canadian pastor who's on trial for allegedly running a foul of a similar law. On Capitol Hill we are facing a similar battle. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) would give homosexuals conduct the same protections we currently give black Americans and women. To be black or female is, as Gen. Colin Powell pointed out, an immutable condition. But people choose whether or not to act on their homosexual disposition. There is concern, however, that religious organizations and churches will not be exempt from this law. Advocates of ENDA argue that there is a religious exemption for churches. The weakness of such exemptions was illustrated this week in England. An open homosexual named John Reaney applied for a job as a youth director for the Anglican diocese of Hereford. The archbishop of this diocese refused him employment. Mr. Reaney successfully sued the diocese for discrimination under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations of 2007. The religious exemption in the law applied only to ministers. The exemption became ambiguous when it came to employment for other duties within the church. This is another example where legislators provide what appears to be an exemption to appease churches when the legislation is passed but leave them vague enough so that the courts get the final say and religious freedom is lost.

Okay, so we're not even going to address Tony's opening statement linking proposed federal hate crimes legislation to a hate speech case currently playing out in Canada. That's because no matter how hard the religious right tries to paint the proposed hate crimes measure as if it pertains to speech, such is simply not the case. There is not even one reason why someone should compare a speech case in a country that does restrict hate speech with anti-violence legislation in a country that does not disallow most objectionable words! That being the case, there is also not reason for us to refute this particular flawed logic (or lack thereof) at this time.

We will, however, address Tony's casual mention of Gen. Powell. What Tony is referring to here is the following quote, which Powell made back in 1992 to oppose gays in the military. What he said was:

Skin color is a benign, non-behavioral characteristic. Sexual orientation is perhaps the most profound of human behavioral characteristics. Comparison of the two is a convenient, but invalid argument

But here's the thing: While this quote is annoying and short-sighted, in it, Powell did not make the declaration for which Mr. Perkins uses this quote as a springboard -- that homosexuality is a choice. Powell was (wrongly, in this writer's opinion) saying that in his view, sexual orientation is a characteristic that carries much more weight in terms of human behavior and interaction, and therefore should not be compared to characteristics like skin color. He was (also wrongly, in this writer's opinion) arguing that a gay soldier has more affect on troop cohesiveness than a Black soldier. And considering this line of logic (flawed as it may be) is supported by more recent comments that he has made in regards to "Don't Ask Don't Tell," we think Mr. Powell would actually agree that it is also an "invalid argument" for Tony to use his quote to support the bold declaration that "people choose whether or not to act on their homosexual disposition."! This is most certainly not what the general was saying!!

But Powell's views aside, the truly misleading portion of Tony's above commentary comes when he compares John Reaney's British case with one that might come up in the U.S. under ENDA. The reason is that ENDA and the UK's Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations are apples and spotted dick! ENDA's exemptions (which you can read here) make it crystal clear that it does not apply to churches. The British law (which you can read here) does not. The latter contains a far murkier set of stipulations, and the employment tribunal hearing Mr. Reaney's case found that in his particular instance, the religious exemptions did not grant the archbishop the right to discriminate against Reaney in the way that he did. Some may disagree, but under the applied provisions, such was the determination. If anything, that case should make the United States' social conservatives thankful that here in the states, ENDA does contain passages like this:

(a) In General- This Act shall not apply to any of the employment practices of a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society which has as its primary purpose religious ritual or worship or the teaching or spreading of religious doctrine or belief.

(b) Certain Employees- For any religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society that is not wholly exempt under subsection (a), this Act shall not apply with respect to the employment of individuals whose primary duties consist of teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, religious governance, supervision of a religious order, supervision of persons teaching or spreading religious doctrine or belief, or supervision or participation in religious ritual or worship.

(c) Conformity to Religious Tenets- Under this Act, a religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society may require that applicants for, and employees in, similar positions conform to those religious tenets that such corporation, association, institution, or society declares significant. Under this Act, such a declaration by a religious corporation, association, educational institution or society stating which of its religious tenets are significant shall not be subject to judicial or administrative review. Any such declaration made for purposes of this Act shall be admissible only for proceedings under this Act.

The religious conservatives' take-away message should be one of appreciation that they live in country that will guarantee them the right to keep those pesky gays away from the God that they've hijacked for themselves. Instead, however, they just look for any way they can paint the provisions as somehow discriminatory against them (even if it means looking to another country's dissimilar laws). Selfish, much?!

Now we're not saying that there won't be gay folks trying to challenge ENDA's religion exemptions, as there are more than a few members of the LGBT population who do not feel that their love for someone of the same sex interferes with their love for God (the nerve of them!!!). But one is going to be hard-pressed to challenge a church or religious institution who has taken all of the necessary steps to ensure that their buildings remain carefully de-gayed. So considering the way the law already caters to their religious freedom, it's extremely insulting for religious conservatives to take these explicit exemptions -- which, it should be noted again, are extremely insulting to many gay people of faith -- and make them sound as if they aren't anti-gay enough! What do they want, an official decree that religious freedoms are to automatically be held in higher esteem than all other freedoms?

No need to answer that; we already know the likely response!

Protections Carved out for Homosexuals (2nd Item) [FRC]

**Going back to the Powell quote for a second: It's quite eye-opening to see how the social conservatives have used this quote over the years. If you Google the text, you will find it taken out of context and applied to all sorts of situations. A popular usage is to parlay it into an attack on the way gays have supposedly "hijacked the civil rights movement." Another is to do as Tony did, and make it sound like Powell was saying that homosexuality is a choice (despite the fact that even in 1992, Powell specifically used the word "orientation" and referred to homosexuality as a characteristic rather than a "preference"). But yea, if you poke around, you will find scores and scores of "pro-family" types using and misusing the quote in 9 million and one ways.

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Your thoughts

I wonder if the pro-family side would support the legislation more if we complained endlessly that it's unfair to gays.

Posted by: Ben | Jul 23, 2007 7:16:29 PM

The Reaney case is totally unrelated to the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007. Those new reregulations deal with the provision of Goods and Services.

The Reaney case relates to Employment and the relevant legislation is the much earlier Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento | Jul 24, 2007 3:50:09 AM

If we were to try and follow the line of logic that's been used by various fundies...that the examples of free speech infringments that have occurred in other countries will ultimately occur here as well...then we'd have to consider Hugo Chavez's declaration yesterday, I believe. He has announced that any foreigners who criticize him or his government will be expelled. Are we now to assume that our right to criticize or question our government is now in jeopardy because of the actions of another country's government? It's a ridiculous argument...one that will hopefully be defeated soon.

Posted by: Kristen | Jul 24, 2007 8:47:15 AM

Thanks, Simon. I actually sort of though that's what I discovered while researching it, but ended up accepting Tony's wording. I'll add an update right away!

Posted by: G-A-Y | Jul 24, 2007 8:48:57 AM

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