Mehdi Hasan and Supporting Same-Sex Marriage: Part Two

Introduction

In part one, we analysed some reasons as to why supporting the legalisation of same-sex marriage may not be favourable even in a liberal society and why those with conservative views towards marriage are naturally apprehensive about such legalisation. In this part, we will look at the inhibitions faced by those who have deeply held convictions regarding this issue, demonstrating that the law “forces religious believers into situations and activities that violate their deeply held beliefs.”[1] Even if Muslims, wishing to live in a liberal society, ought to support same-sex marriage as Mehdi Hasan claims and does, they most definitely cannot support it in a legal system whereby the fundamental rights of freedom of religion and the freedom of association and dissociation are not protected. This is especially the case in the UK, where “the legislative protection for freedom of conscience is so narrow that the courts have very little room for manoeuvre.”[2] All that Mehdi Hasan has written is to insist that “no mosque be forced to hold one (i.e. a same-sex marriage ceremony) against its wishes.”[3] The encroachment to freedom of belief and religion, of course, extends beyond this sole issue and has far-reaching implications. Lending support to same-sex marriage without simultaneously explaining how these freedoms ought to be protected, at a time where these freedoms are being violated across the world, is in the writer’s view, taking the easy route out. A person who is concerned about protecting minorities facing discrimination from not legislating same-sex marriage laws ought to be equally concerned by the lack of freedoms facing people of religion who fail to accommodate in the ways the liberal society demands. It is not merely the topic of homosexuality where such freedoms are violated, abortion and the transgender issue are similar areas suffering the same problems.

We shall observe only a few cases – for sadly, there are far too many to mention – to demonstrate our point. The first case we shall observe is that to do with abortion. This is relevant to our discussion because it shows that the current laws prevented conscientious objectors from going against their religious convictions are inadequate.

Abortion

In 2014, two Scottish midwives were forced to leave the profession because the court ruled that whilst they had the right to refuse to partake in the actual termination of the pregnancy, “they must still delegate, supervise and support other staff” involved in the abortion process (Doogan 2014).[4] Whilst section four of the Abortion Act of 1967 exempted them from partaking in the termination of the pregnancy, the supreme court ruled that these subsidiary activities were not covered by the act.[5] Given that, quite naturally, the midwives felt that these activities amounted to participation, they could not in good conscience partake in them and subsequently were forced to leave their jobs. This despite the fact that, as pro-life group SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) which paid for the midwives’ legal costs said, “the number of abortions on the labour ward at our hospital is in fact a tiny percentage of the workload, which in turn could allow the accommodation of conscientious objection with minimal effort, this judgment, with its constraints and narrow interpretation, has resulted in the provision of a conscience clause which now in practice is meaningless for senior midwives on a labour ward.” The General Secretary also “added that midwives with conscientious objections are forced to leave the professions and their careers.”[6] The case is similar with respects to the EU. For example, “the European Committee of Social Rights recently declared that the European Social Charter ‘does not impose on states a positive obligation to provide

a right to conscientious objection for health care workers’ (FAFCE 2013: 16). Sweden’s strong protection for abortion rights, disallowing conscientious refusal of abortion services, was defended by the Committee.”[7]

Euthanasia

In Canada, a Joint Committee on Physician-Assisted Dying reported to the Canadian Parliament with regards to the regulation concerning euthanasia that “at a minimum” the practitioner must provide an “effective referral for the patient. But as David Oderberg duly notes, “if the practitioner is required to facilitate euthanasia by means of a referral, it does not seem that their freedom of conscience is respected… freedom of conscience extends beyond actual participation in an objectionable act and applies to certain types of assistance or cooperation as well.”[8]

Homosexuality

In a famous case, the owner of a bakery in Belfast bakery was found guilty by a lower court for refusing to bake a cake for a customer asking for the message “Support Gay Marriage” to be written on it. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court where they were eventually cleared of discrimination, with the Judge saying that whilst they could not refuse their goods to a gay man or someone who supported gay marriage, they were not obliged “to supply a cake iced with a message with which they disagreed.”[9] What is important to not forget, is that whilst the owners were eventually cleared, the distress and hardship they had to endure for merely following their conscience were great indeed. Moreover, it is not clear what consequences they would have suffered to their business as a result.

The case of a bakery is not unique to Belfast however. In the US, in Oregon, Melissa and Aaron Klein, owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa, were “found to have violated a public accommodations law barring discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and subsequently were fined $135,000.The appeals court also ruled against stating that, “Today, the Oregon Court of Appeals decided that Aaron and Melissa Klein are not entitled to the Constitution’s promises of religious liberty and free speech. In a diverse and pluralistic society, people of good will should be able to peacefully coexist with different beliefs.”[10] Likewise, Baronelle Stutzman, a florist who was sued for refusing to provide her services for a same-sex wedding, lost her case in the supreme court. This despite the fact that she had hired gays and lesbians since opening her store and that her sole objection was to be offering her services for a same-sex wedding.[11][12]

Homosexuality in Education

Worryingly, these limitations to freedoms do not extend merely to the refusal to provide services. A government bill introduced to the UK parliament in 2009 stated that whilst the European Convention on Human Rights requires the state to respect the rights of parents to ensure that their child’s education conforms with their own beliefs, this right was not an “absolute right” and did not “entitle parents to withdraw their children their children from elements of the curriculum to which they object.” To overcome this apparent contradiction the bill cites a case called Kjeldsen v Denmark, where the European Court of Human Rights ruled against a group of Christian parents who claimed that compulsory sex education was in direct contravention of their beliefs. The Court claimed that their rights were not violated “because the intention of the sex education was to impart knowledge objectively and in the public interest, and the education was conveyed in a “neutral, objective, critical and pluralistic way.””[13] Of course, no one today can believe that such education will be neutral nor objective nor will it encompass conservative views who oppose LGBT on moral grounds. In Austria, sexual education has been mandatory in schools since 1970. Parents “are not able to withdraw their children from sexuality education lessons, but are involved in conferences and are given information about material used during the lessons.”[14]

It is interesting to note that the bill introduced in 2009 stated that the Government intends to maintain a partial right of withdrawal for parents in relation to the teaching of sex and relationships education to their children.” To achieve this balance, the right of withdrawal for parents extended up to the age of fifteen.[15] This intention changed with the introduction of the Children and Social Work Act 2017. Parents will no longer be able to withdraw their children from Relationships Education in primary or secondary school, whilst they will be able to withdraw their children from classes that tackle sex education that is outside of the Relationships Education. The Relationships Education Curriculum, according to the Government, should include teaching on LGBT relationships during secondary school, whilst it is optional for primary schools to teach it too. Furthermore, this education would be delivered, as an example, “through teaching about different types of family, including those with same sex parents.”[16] On March 27th 2019, a large majority of MPs voted in favour of the Government’s new, LGBT-inclusive regulations for RSE, with 538 MPs voting in favour and 21 against. This was the first update to the RSE guidance since 2000.

Dr Kate Godfrey-Faussett, a psychologist who worked actively to highlight the potential dangers of the new RSE curriculum and to inform parents of their rights with regards to their children recently made the headlines for her sustained criticisms of the new curriculum. A group by the name of the National Secular Society wrote to the regulatory body for psychologists asking about the compatibility of her views with their professional standards, for which the regulatory body announced that it would commence investigation.

Among the claims made by the National Secular Society against Dr Kate Godfrey-Faussett was that her material “included a book which endorses lashing and killing gay people.” Having reviewed the material mentioned, this was a clearly false account of what the material stated. The material, to highlight the severity of the problem of Homosexuality in Islam, highlighted the traditional punishments that were legislated by Islamic Law. There is, of course, a huge difference between describing the law, and between advocating its implication. This manifest difference is lost in such times where the culture war is raging fiercely. One wonders if the fact that many early Jewish and Christians thinkers advocated the death penalty for homosexuality is something one can mention as a historical fact which is indicative of the severity of the matter in the Judeo-Christian heritage. Listing such facts has nothing to do with endorsing these punishments in a modern liberal society. That was clearly not the author’s intention.

Concluding Thoughts

Whilst Mehdi Hasan has undoubtedly done some great work as a journalist, particularly his exposing of the Islamophobic trends in the modern Western world, he is mistaken to think that all Muslims desire is safety from such racist attacks. For a countless number of Muslims, and follows of other religions, the attacks against the essential freedoms of conscience and the freedom to associate and dissociate based on deeply held religious convictions is just as important. Undoubtedly, the topic of how to legislate such laws in a liberal society whose apparent goal is to sustain a tolerant and free society is a difficult one. But Mehdi Hasan, who speaks and identifies as a Muslim, cannot merely lend his support to same-sex marriage without addressing these justified concomitant fears held by many. David Oderberg writes that “it remains that not being compelled to violate one’s beliefs is a sine qua non of religious freedom in a liberal society. Freedom of religion and conscience have typically involved these other activities as well, but I am concerned with the narrower core. That core must entail a person’s freedom from being coerced by the state to violate their deeply held beliefs. Rightly do we balk at the very idea that a government could force by law, threat, or actual violence, a Christian or a Jew, say, publicly to denounce their faith…”[17] What the aforementioned cases demonstrate is that states around the world are compelling people despite their deeply held beliefs. It is not clear, then, what benefits we are to accrue from supporting same-sex legislation, as Mehdi Hasan tells us to do.

 

[1] Oderberg, David S. Opting Out: Conscience and Cooperation in a Pluralistic Society: Conscience and Cooperation in a Pluralistic Society. London Publishing Partnership, 2018, p12.

[2] Ibid – p10

[3] https://www.newstatesman.com/mehdi-hasan/2013/05/muslim-i-struggle-idea-homosexuality-i-oppose-homophobia

[4] https://www.thejournal.ie/midwives-uk-case-supreme-court-1839677-Dec2014/

[5] Oderberg, David S. Opting Out, p21.

[6] [6] https://www.thejournal.ie/midwives-uk-case-supreme-court-1839677-Dec2014/

[7] Oderberg, David S. Opting Out , p23.

[8] Ibid, p22. (Emphasis in original)

[9] https://www.irishtimes.com/news/world/uk/gay-cake-case-belfast-bakery-did-not-discriminate-uk-supreme-court-rules-1.3658424

[10] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/dec/28/court-rules-against-bakers-gay-wedding-cake-case/

[11] Corvino, John, Ryan T. Anderson, and Sherif Girgis. Debating religious liberty and discrimination. Oxford University Press, 2017, p118.

[12] The above-cited authors also mention the case of “Julea Ward, a graduate student dismissed from Eastern Michigan University’s counseling program for asking her supervisor to assign another counselor to a gay client seeking relationship help. Ward, whose religious convictions kept her from affirming same- sex sexual relationships, tried to place the client with a counselor who could. She did so ahead of time, based simply on his file. Meeting her request would have been a win-win, protecting her liberty without embarrassing him.” See Ibid, p119.

[13] https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200910/jtselect/jtrights/57/5704.htm. See 1.30 under Section (B) titled The right of parental withdrawal.

[14] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/note/join/2013/462515/IPOL-FEMM_NT(2013)462515_EN.pdf, p12.

[15] See section 1.33 of https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/jt200910/jtselect/jtrights/57/5704.htm.

[16] https://consult.education.gov.uk/pshe/relationships-education-rse-health-education/supporting_documents/RSEPSHEFAQs.pdf

[17] Oderberg, David S. Opting Out, p2-3.

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