21 January 2013

Kenan Malik on gay marriage and Catholic ‘persecution’

British writer and broadcaster Kenan Malik has written a blog post about the recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights to dismiss three cases of supposed discrimination against Christians, and the larger issue of religious freedom versus equality laws. Malik’s post addresses the argument by Catholics that the legalisation of gay marriage is effectively an act of persecution against them, since it would “severely [restrict] the ability of Catholics to teach the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship”. It’s the same tired refrain from religionists: taking away their right to discriminate on unreasonable grounds is an act of persecution, and contrary to the spirit of religious freedom. These claims, as Malik writes, “not only fundamentally misunderstand religious freedom, but, in their wild hysteria, serve also to undermine those very freedoms.”

Malik’s post is eminently quotable; here’s his response to the argument that gay marriage is a uniquely oppressive example of Catholic ‘persecution’:

There are many laws that liberal societies enact that are contrary to the beliefs and practices of many religions. The legalization of abortion, for instance, of homosexuality, and of divorce (and the acceptance that divorcees can remarry) – all legally permit practices condemned by the Catholic Church (and by many other faiths). Are these also expressions of the ‘persecution’ of believers? If not, why should the legalization of gay marriage be so different?

And here Malik shows why legalising gay marriage actually extends, not restricts, freedom of religion (emphasis Malik’s):

The claim that legalizing gay marriage undermines freedom of religion has it back to front. Legalizing gay marriage in reality extends freedom of religion. While most faiths oppose gay marriage, some support it and would like to consecrate same-sex unions. They are, however, forbidden from doing so by the law. Adherents of such faiths are, in other words, legally prohibited from following their conscience. In permitting such congregations formally to bless same-sex unions, any law legalizing gay marriage would extend freedom of religion.

As for the scaremongering by Catholics where they claim that equality laws would force them to perform same-sex marriages against their beliefs, Malik rebuts:

If legislation for gay marriage does lead to unacceptable infringements upon religious freedom, then we – secular and religious – should contest any such infringements. But the fact that injustice may be done to believers in the future is no reason to prevent justice being done to gays and lesbians today.

What about the claim that legalising same-sex marriage would prevent Catholics from teaching “the truth about marriage in their schools, charitable institutions or places of worship”? Malik writes:

[T]he issue of gay marriage is not fundamentally different from many other cases in which religious ‘truth’ diverges from that which the law permits or proscribes. The fact that abortion, contraception, homosexuality and divorce are all legal in Britain has not prevented Catholic priests or teachers from asserting their ‘truth’ on these issues, or barred them from entering any profession.

Finally, Malik expresses the gist of secularist arguments against religious privilege (not religious freedom).

[Catholics] have every right to believe [that marriage is between a man and a woman], to publicly express that belief and to act upon it by refusing to countenance same-sex unions within their church. What they do not have the right to do is to insist that if anyone else thinks differently, and wishes to act upon their belief, they are in so doing persecuting Catholics and attacking religious freedom, and that therefore such beliefs must not be acted upon. Religious freedom is important; too important to leave it be traduced in such cavalier fashion by particular interest groups.


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