Discrimination, Faith and Human Rights

I can remember the feeling when, during the English same-sex marriage debates in 2012 and 2013, people like me were talked about as if we were inanimate objects, and whether we deserved the rights taken for granted by most of the population. Being spoken about as “not quite human” was gruelling and painful at times, and certain people did make it difficult to keep anger in check. The hardest point for me was when it was made clear that government was simply not going to concede on spousal veto, despite promising signs at various points. It hit very hard indeed, and it took me a good few weeks to pick myself up properly – emails from certain MPs helped.

As Ireland prepares to vote on same-sex marriage tomorrow, I can sense the same emotions surging in my Irish friends. Ignore whether it’s in any way fundamentally right or wrong to put people’s equality to a public vote, but, instead, imagine what it’s like to know that tens or even hundreds of thousands of people don’t think you should be equal.

I’ve been engaging with some people who I assume are Christians on a friend’s Facebook thread about human rights. I find myself both alarmed and angered at the assumption that they should have the right to discriminate against LGBT people because of their faith. So far there has been no response to my question about whether it is only LGBT people that should be subjected to such discrimination, or whether they also wish to be able to discriminate against Chinese people, or people in wheelchairs, or people with ginger hair on the basis of faith.

In a world of competing rights, it strikes me as increasingly odd that a faith, which you acquire, has the same basis in law as a characteristic which you are born with. It seems easier to decide that religious identities should be removed as a protected characteristic than any other. After all, if you decide to believe, surely you can decide not to believe – a luxury not granted to people of different races, or with disabilities, or even non-normative sexualities. I can no more decide not to be trans than I can decide not to be Caucasian – it’s what I am, and I’ve known no other way of being. But I did decide in my early teens to become a Christian and later, in my early forties, decided that I could no longer call myself a Christian.

The state will always assume that it should have the power to intervene in your life, whether that be by monitoring emails and phone calls, restricting who you can talk to or what you can say, or even where you can go. Human rights tell the state that there are boundaries to its intervention, boundaries that the state may well not like. That’s why human rights are important.

Plans to replace the Human Rights Act (and, thereby, possibly remove Britain from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights) are fraught with danger – the state is wanting to remove the bulwark against protections for its citizens from itself. As evidenced by the Facebook thread, those plans have also set in place a framework for a discussion about, not what rights people should have, but who should have those rights. The voices of discrimination are suddenly given a validity and ability that I, and many others, had hoped we had moved on from some years ago. I am just old enough to remember the “No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish” posters. I fear we are about to return to a “No Gays, No Benefits Claimants, No Poles” equivalent.

There is little doubt now that trans rights are becoming a big political issue with a media profile that is increasing, seemingly daily. I’m working to try to make the various issues non-partisan. I know that there will be voices ranged against spending public money or “giving into” people like me. Those voices are unreasonably strengthened if the debate around human rights validates discrimination.

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