Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Equality / Tolerance

I see this image popping up all over social media stating "'No gays allowed' in Northern Ireland". But, when I click, and read the link, the quote in the headline is nowhere to be found, and neither is a link to the proposal for the amendment to existing equality legislation. Coincidently, for the readers information I don't support the amendment as it stands, nor will I sign *this* petition against it. It is a poor fix to poor legislation, like putting a band-aid on a broken leg.

I wanted to reply to some of these posts on Facebook, but I don't think that would be constructive or profitable as Facebook debates usually end up in a name calling flame war, so I decided to pen my thoughts here. The title of the petition is misleading, and I hope doesn't represent the views of anyone associated with the amendment.

Oh where to start. I am not anti-anybody. I believe everyone has a right to determine right from wrong as they see fit. Everyone has the right to figure out how to live, and to live that way within the constraints of the law. 

I think it is also important to remember that most people do not arrive at any world-view or lifestyle choices lightly, most are considered thoughtfully, even painstakingly, and most are shaped over a lifetime.

It is everyone’s right to act according to the world-view they have arrived at, and live the lifestyle they choose, as long as it is in accordance with the law. Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights provides that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion...”[1] and I fully support that. Everyone. Not just one group, but all, to the exclusion of no one. So long as it complies with law.

Surely the whole point of freedom of conscience is that you don’t have to be complicit in some act that is acceptable by me, but not acceptable by you. For example if your company prints billboards or T-shirts and I ask you for some slogan that is in opposition to your personal ethos, or your company ethos, then you get to refuse. You are not refusing because of who I am, but because of what you believe, beliefs arrived at through your conscience. My response ought to be to tolerate* your belief, and go find someone else to give my money to.

If however you refuse me because of my political views, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation etc, then that is a different issue.

But, as I understand it, this is not the core issue in the cases that are driving this debate. The businesses are not discriminating against customers based on who they are, what they believe or how they live. In some of the cases long standing customers have asked for a product that requires someone to produce something, and lend their name to something that is against their beliefs. They have previously served the same customer many times, and have no issue with doing so in the future, the customer is not the issue, but rather their association with the product is.

We must understand that this is mutual; it works both ways, and that sometimes it will cause me a little trouble, but the other side is that I cannot be forced to do something which is against my personal conscience. This applies to the big things and the small - whether I'm asked to print a billboard, or participate in of facilitate the abortion of a baby.

The real issue comes down to one question that we all have to ask and answer: “will you tolerate* me?”

*tolerate: allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one dislikes or disagrees with) without interference

If you feel the need to comment, please do so, but if you disagree with what I've said, can I ask that rather than attacking me, you criticise my ideas, and that way we can have a constructive conversation where we all might learn, rather than just a mud slinging session?

[1] http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/sites/default/files/documents/humanrights/hrr_article_9.pdf