Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Right To Discriminate: Is Nick Griffin On To Something?

Until the world develops a better social media meteorological prediction tool, we are left at the mercy of the occasional Twitterstorm. This week's storm brewed after Nick Griffin made some foolish comments about organising some sort of "justice" mob to accost the winners of the long running Bed and Breakfast dispute.

I've discussed this dispute, whereby a same-sex couple were denied a double-bed in a Bed and Breakfast by the Christian owner, before but I feel it has become necessary to re-evaluate where I stand 2 years on.

The USA has been in the grip of so-called "culture wars" for a long time and it has only ramped up over the last decade. What has happened there, religious schools sacking secularists or University's sacking someone over their stance on equal marriage, is now happening here. We must find a solution, and soon, before the culture wars cause permanent damage to our society.

The debacle is just one example from this week of discrimination. An 11 year old "atheist" (i.e. just someone who doesn't wish to swear a duty to God, nor the Queen but nobody is perfect) has had his request to join the Scouts denied. Turns out you can believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster and be a member but no belief is just not allowed. Meanwhile the housing association manager demoted because he said he disagreed with churches holding same-sex marriages on Facebook has taken the housing association to court. No one has yet pointed out his stupidity in getting upset about something that is, alas, not on the agenda. Oh well, still seems a tad harsh.

As these three cases suggest this is not a one-sided issue. Attempts by anti-marriage equality activists to paint Christianity as some persecuted characteristic ring hollow when they do already (i.e. in the case of the Scouts) exactly what they accuse secularists of wanting to do. But this equally applies to the secularist side too!

We live in a country where hotels still describe themselves as for gay men only (just without the "No Straights Allowed" signs), where bars deny heterosexuals entry (and I have been on the receiving end of that because I, and my police officer date for the evening, "looked" straight) and where people offering out flatshares dictate what gender, sexuality or race (!) they would like prospective flatmates to be. Is that right or wrong?

In the last couple of years I've discussed this issues with others. Many have defended the idea that gay hotels and bars should be allowed to discriminate so that they are "safe places" but also said B&B owners don't have the right to discriminate over who stays there! And in a similar vein you will see Christians getting severely annoyed at cases such as the housing manager being demoted but fighting tooth and nail to ensure Christian schools can deny employment to LGBT people. I cannot bear this hypocrisy any longer. Either we must live in a country where no one has the right to discriminate at all (an unlikely situation given our species seemingly innate desire to hate each other) or where people do have the right to discriminate (a deeply troubling and dispiriting prospect I accept).

So it is time to decide: will liberals accept that gay bars can't discriminate against heterosexuals or will Christians accept they can be demoted, fired and mocked for their beliefs if they conflict with their employers? If not then perhaps they need to reexamine their positions.

Although I think we can all agree that "Girls get in free" nights at bars and clubs are tragic. Agreed?

If you feel benevolent and particularly generous, this writer always appreciates things bought for him from his wishlist


Hodge Podge said...

"Girls get in free" is horrible whether you're a feminist or an anti-feminist- it's both objectifying and creepy, and economic discrimination.

Alasdair said...

"Either we must live in a country where no one has the right to discriminate at all (an unlikely situation given our species seemingly innate desire to hate each other) or where people do have the right to discriminate (a deeply troubling and dispiriting prospect I accept)."

Or maybe we should live in a country where we accept nuance and recognise that every situation is different, and complex issues can't be boiled down to simple yes-or-no answers.

For my part, I take the view that discrimination in the provision of goods and services is generally not justifiable; both 'straight only' and 'gay only' facilities seem wrong to me. But I recognise that there may be circumstances where it could be justified. The Scouts is one: they're not selling a service, they're a voluntary organisation, and can refuse to let in whoever they like. Another commonly cited example is shelters for abused women, which have a good reason for refusing men entry (and are allowed to do so). Or churches which require their ministers to be Christian. The point is, saying 'discrimination is always wrong' or 'discrimination is always OK' is not very helpful in real life.

You take the view that it should always be allowed, which is easy to say when you're part of the majority in society and don't face general hostility from it; I suspect you might feel differently if you had been, for example, a black American under segregation. When a large number of shops and service providers refuse to cater for a certain group, it amounts to refusing them the right to take part in the economy. Personally, I'm glad we no longer live in a country where signs saying 'no blacks or Irish' are permitted; that seems like progress to me, and while certain particular instances of discrimination can be justified, dismantling anti-discrimination law as a result would be a step backwards.