Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Chaplin on Liberalism and Toleration: Part Two

As mentioned in the previous post Chaplin focuses on situations where student groups on university campuses affiliated to the student associations have been disaffiliated on the basis of discrimination due to their position on homosexual relations. The "individualistic regime of tolerance" would put racial discrimination and discrimination against homosexuals on the same level, however Chaplin demurs:

those who place racial identity and views on sexual morality in the same category are simply not comparing like with like. As a biologically determined trait, racial identity is wholly outside someone's choice, while also being profoundly implicated in someone's social identity. This is the basic reason why we have rightly come to insist that racial discrimination is arbitrary. Views of sexual morality, by contrast, are elective: we adopt them, either through individual choice or by remaining within a community that upholds them. And for some, the views they hold on this question are profoundly connected to their own moral or religious identity, such that being required to suspend or disavow them is experienced as deeply compromising.

Unfortunately Chaplin has himself failed to compare like with like. He compares race, the object of discrimination, as a biologically determined trait, not with homosexuality, but with “views of sexual morality”. Chaplin should have compared views on race with views on sexual morality, or, race and homosexuality themselves. If he compared the latter the immediate question would be is homosexuality “a biologically determined trait” or at least akin to such a trait (i.e. not merely a free lifestyle choice). This seems to be one of the key points at issue.
The issue has again been in the news with the new "Sexual Orientation Regulations" which form part of the Equality Act 2006 just come into force in Northern Ireland and to be law in the rest of the UK later this year. There have been protests outside Parliament, mainly made up of Christians. Those against the new law have opposed it on grounds of the conscience and free speech of Christians and others who object to homosexual practice, with a distinction drawn between homosexuals and homosexual practice. The first should not be disciminated against, but Christians want the freedom to refuse providing services to homosexuals that would condone homosexual practice. The example given is that of Christian Hotel refusing to provide a room to a homosexual couple.
In response to these kinds of arguments Lord Smith said: "I am somewhat puzzled by the arguments that have been advanced. It seems to me, in my simplistic way, that what they (the opponents of the regulations) are arguing for is quite simply the right to discriminate and the right to harass. And those arguments are being made in the name of Christianity."
What this suggests is that Chaplin still needs to present an argument to explain why “those who place racial identity and views on sexual morality in the same category are simply not comparing like with like”.

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