According to BBC News, (Although they’re not alone in using this quote) yesterday’s decision to block a Christian couple from fostering because of their views on homosexuality is because “laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation ‘should take precedence’ over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.” Although I agree with the end decision in this case, the quotation given is somewhat concerning.
I’m worried about this idea that there is some sort of pecking order of oppression, that the gay community is somehow more oppressed than the religious community. That way lies Oppression Olympics which is, to my mind, unhelpful. Is it really relevant if I, as a white lesbian trans woman am more or less marginalised than a black lesbian cis woman or a Muslim straight trans woman? What’s needed is appropriate help and support for each group according to it’s needs and specific situations. This sort of muddled thinking could lead to more plaintive cries from the religious right that they’re being repressed because gay trumps religion in the courts. (In reality, the Equality Act 2010 states the opposite: there are many exemptions for religion)
Upon reading the actual judgement, the court actually makes it’s view very clear: “…between the protected rights concerning religion and sexual orientation there is no hierarchy of rights…“. (Emphasis mine) It goes on to say “there may, as this case shows, be a tension between equality provisions concerning religious discrimination and those concerning sexual orientation” which really is the nub of the problem: What to do in cases where two strands of diversity clash in this way.
The resolution is in the National Minimum Standards for Fostering Services. I have not been able to get a copy of the document they refer to as the later, online, version has “Standard 7” about leisure activity. I do hope the courts are not equating homosexuality with a leisure activity! Luckily, they quote the relevant section earlier on in the judgement: “The fostering service ensures that children and young people, and their families, are provided with foster care services which value diversity and promote equality.” The same restriction presumably applies if a potential foster couple stated they could not tolerate a child being religious.
So, despite what the BBC quote suggests, the courts have not decided that one strand of takes precedence over another. It’s just in this particular case, the freedom of the children wins out over the desire of a couple to foster, as it should be.