[The third in an occasional series championing unpopular causes. Previous subjects have been Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ariel Sharon.]
The misconceived Equality Act 2006 is indicative of a prevailing belief among the ruling classes and in much of the country that discrimination per se is an "evil" (AC Grayling) that must be stamped out. According to Charlie Falconer:
The view about discrimination [that it must be banned] is one that's been taken by the country as a whole. [Today programme]
By the whole country? When did we take that view? If I'd been asked, I'd have favoured greater discrimination. Here are some definitions and etymologies:
–verb (used without object) 1. to make a distinction in favor of or against a person or thing on the basis of the group, class, or category to which the person or thing belongs rather than according to actual merit; show partiality: The new law discriminates against foreigners. He discriminates in favor of his relatives. 2. to note or observe a difference; distinguish accurately: to discriminate between things. –verb (used with object) 3. to make or constitute a distinction in or between; differentiate: a mark that discriminates the original from the copy. 4. to note or distinguish as different: He can discriminate minute variations in tone. –adjective 5. marked by discrimination; making or evidencing nice distinctions: discriminate people; discriminate judgments.
[Origin: 1620–30; < L discriminatus separated, ptp. of discriminare. See discriminant, -ate1]
The first definition informs the Act's understanding of 'discrimination'. But note its examplary phrases - they imply that it's unmerited to distinguish between nationals and non-nationals, and between one's family and non-family-members: yet, a political, moral and social collapse would ensue if those distinctions were not drawn, at least some of time. Anyhow, here's more on the etymology:
–noun Mathematics. a relatively simple expression that determines some of the properties, as the nature of the roots, of a given equation or function.
[Origin: 1830–40; < L discriminant- (s. of discriminans) separating, prp. of discriminare to divide up, separate, v. deriv. of discrimen, s. discrimin- separating line, distinction, equiv. to discri-, var. s. of discernere (see discern) + -men n. suffix; see -ant]
Discernment and discrimination are exactly the qualities required of legislators in a well-functioning democracy. But, unfortunately, our parliamentarians have been brainwashed to believe, and would brainwash the country into believing, that discrimination, in all its forms, must be eradicated from British behaviour, even at the expense of common-sense.
Proponents of the Act try to cast this as a religion vs secularism conflict. The (shockingly unphilosophically minded) AC Grayling has written several articles in this vein. For example, his latest diatribe begins thusly:
Emboldened by its victory over the government in the matter of keeping faith schools discriminatory and exclusive, the Roman Catholic church in England is now again flexing its biceps to preserve its tradition of discrimination and prejudice against gay people. Just as active in keeping its own paedophile priests safe from the law, it is determined to secure exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation too. Evidently, Roman Catholicism thinks of itself as above the law. Of course it would: it is obedient not to earthly law, but to a higher law: its own convenience, its own mentally and morally corrupt ways. [Guardian]
Instead of focusing on the needs of the infants put up for adoption, or of the gay and lesbian B&B owners who don't want to invite straights into their house, thank you very much (and for whom nobody speaks up, because the gay NGOs have lobbied for this law), Grayling attacks the messenger, the Catholic Church, of which he's obviously not a fan. But the church's argument is about children, earthly beings, not about higher laws, and Grayling ignores that. His ideology, on the other hand, extols a higher law, 'anti-discrimination', to be superimposed indiscriminately upon us earthly beings, whose rights and needs are to be trampled by the heavy boots of its fanaticism.
(In case the reader wonders - no, I am not a Catholic nor call myself Christian. If I were to become a Catholic, I hope I would be sufficiently discriminating and discerning to become a sedevacantist, which would then mean I'd be excommunicated, which would sort of defeat the object of it, so I won't. But, increasingly with age, I tend to agree with its ethical stances on such things as this legislation, IVF and embryonic stem cell research.)
Supporters of the Act argue: discrimination laws should be applied indiscriminately; gays are like blacks, women and the disabled, and they should be similarly protected from discrimination; it would be wrong to stop a straight black couple from adopting a child on the grounds that they were black, and gay couples should have equal rights as black couples. But this is a categorical error. The black couple, who for whatever reason are unable to conceive a natural child, entered into their relationship with the hope of the gift of a child - Nature sometimes gives, sometimes not - whereas the gay couple never could have conceived of a natural child. The black couple do not have a right to a child but do have a relationship within which it is conceivable that the conception of an infant could have taken place - the gay couple, also, have no right to a child, but, additionally, their relationship always precluded the possibility of natural children.
I'm not an absolutist on this - many gay couples would be far better parents of adoptees than many straight couples I've known in my time - but the needs of the infant should be the main criterion for the adoption agency. Ceteris paribus, it may well be that agency's consciencious judgement that an infant put up for adoption would be better off in a home in which it is conceivable that it could have been conceived, rather than in one in which it is inconceivable that it could have been conceived. That agency's judgement would be criminalized under this law and that's wrong.
Adoption agents should discriminate in favour of infants, even if that upsets the sensibilities of some adults. Being discriminating, not treating everything as if it was the same thing, recognizing differences, celebrating differences, allowing differences even if we don't like them - I only wish I were more discriminating and discerning than I actually am.