Tolerance is old hat. It’s affirmation or nothing now

Janet Daby – the shadow faith minister – has been forced to resign after arguing that a conscience clause should be permitted for registrars who are unable to conduct same-sex marriages. Christian Today report her saying:

There needs to be something in place that protects people of faith as well as those who think the other way… it is an issue of conscience. It is like people having a choice who for reasons of conscience cannot participate in conducting an abortion.

After mounting criticism, Daby stated that her comments were ‘misjudged’ before tendering her resignation.

However, it strikes me that her suggestion is a perfectly good one. We already recognise conscience clauses for doctors who cannot conduct abortions. Similarly, we recognise the need for equality legislation so that employers must make reasonable accommodation for those who are physically unable to perform certain tasks. If we are able to provide such exemptions for those who legs, arms and backs won’t bend, for example, why should we not provide similar clauses for those whose consciences won’t bend too?

It is difficult to get around the fact that this is a matter of conscience. It is only within the last ten years that same-sex marriage has even become possible. A registrar of some 40 years experience could be struck off for not being able to do, according to their own faith and conscience, what they were not permitted to do for the majority of their career.

Whilst some do make the case, most people recognise the validity of a conscience clause regarding abortion. Few are willing to force doctors – whose primary concern is to preserve life – to terminate it in utero against their conscience that insists such is murderous. Whilst the service cannot legally be refused altogether, doctors can opt out of being the specific one to perform it.

Likewise, there have been cases recently surrounding the self-identification of M-2-F transgender people insisting that they receive services at female-only treatment salons. In 13 different salons, Jessica Yaniv attempted to receive a brazillian wax and went to court when those running the salon refused to wax male genitalia. It was found that refusing to wax male genitalia – even if the person self-identified as a woman – was not a hate crime.

In a similar way, it seems to me that refusing on conscience grounds not to conduct a same-sex marriage – not because of any inherent hatred towards gay people (presumably a whole host of other services would be rendered to them happily) – but because on faith and conscience grounds to participate in this form of marriage would be a serious problem. Given that the law is what it is, the service cannot be denied altogether to those who want it. But it seems a small accommodation to permit those whose consciences won’t bend to step back and allow another registrar to conduct instead.

The problem, of course, is that we are no longer in a live-and-let-live world. The LGBT+ lobby has moved from a (reasonable) desire to live their lives without persecution – a desire to just be left alone to do as they please – to a position whereby affirmation must be sought. Any who say, on conscience grounds, I cannot affirm this are deemed hateful. It is no longer a matter of being permitted to so act and behave, it is now the case that affirmation and approval for so acting must be sought as well. Anything less is, so it is argued, discrimination.

Interestingly, however, that logic never appears to cut back on Christian views. The Bible is quite clear that we don’t need to seek approval and affirmation but should, ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Rom 12:18). 1 Thessalonians 4:11 says, ‘make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.’ We don’t need other to affirm and approve everything we are doing, or to agree with us. We are aiming simply to be permitted the freedom to do what we do. Likewise, the Christian should want that to cut back on others.

Nevertheless, those who do insist on affirmation, equality and hatred all being intermingled rarely seem willing to approve religious views that disagree with them. They insist that to do less than fully approve and affirm is to be discriminatory whilst mocking, belittling and openly disagreeing with any religious position that happens to disagree with them. On their own view, they discriminate against all those who they refuse to approve and affirm. Whether it is Christians, Muslims or any other major faith to which they don’t subscribe, but whose views conflict with theirs, their lack of affirmation for those alternate views equate to discrimination on the terms that they set for others in respect to their own position.

Of course, these things are avoided if we take a step back. Discrimination is wrong and we cannot, and should not, refuse services to people because of who they are or what they believe. But to not affirm a belief is not discriminatory and to provide conscience clauses for those who believe a particular action to be sinful – without refusing to provide the service altogether – would seem to be within the Spirit of the live-and-let-live attitude that would allow everybody to be treated fairly and equally.

That the shadow faith minister had to resign for merely deigning to suggest that such a clause might be prudent tells you where we are at as a society. We are no longer concerned with defending the rights of all, we are interested in privileging the rights of some over others. We are no longer a live-and-let-live liberal society, but an increasingly authoritarian one that insists on adherence to prescribed orthodoxy. Any deviation will not be tolerated. Which is, as ever, the big joke that – in the name of tolerance – much is not tolerated at all.