Thursday, August 19, 2010
British marriage registrars branded bigots for avoiding gay weddings by 'swapping shifts on religious grounds'
A sensible compromise branded as illegal
Two registrars are under investigation after being accused of juggling rotas to avoid conducting civil partnership ceremonies. The pair allegedly claimed they could not preside over the civil partnerships because it went against their religious beliefs.
Instead of simply refusing to carry out the ceremonies, the two, who work at Lambeth Register Office, in South London, are understood to have informally swapped shifts. This is said to have been exposed when a registrar giving a talk at a Lambeth Council ‘diversity training’ seminar used it as an illustration. Sources claim the registrar used the shift-swapping tactic as an illustration of good practice.
A gay member of staff was horrified that staff were swapping shifts as a way to ‘get around the law’. She complained to the council’s chief executive, Derrick Anderson, and an inquiry was launched.
Liberal Democrat councillor Brian Palmer, who himself had a civil partnership at Lambeth on the first day new laws came into force in 2005, then took up the matter. He wrote a letter asking council leader Steve Reed if he was aware that registrars were ‘apparently circumventing Lambeth’s publicly stated equalities standards and the law by refusing to conduct civil partnerships’.
‘He will know that such actions will be grossly offensive to many members of the borough’s large LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community including myself,’ Mr Palmer wrote. Branding the ‘avoidance of duty’ as ‘wholly unacceptable as well as illegal’, Mr Palmer went on: ‘What steps is he taking to ensure that all members of the community using Lambeth Registrar Services are treated with respect and equally under the law?’
Labour leader Mr Reed replied: ‘This council does not tolerate bigotry for any reason.’ He said he had asked the chief executive to ensure all members of staff were aware of their ‘ contractual obligation to provide services equally to all residents who are entitled to use them and to ensure all managers are making this happen’.
Lambeth Council confirmed an investigation had been launched. But a spokesman said nobody had been suspended. He added: ‘Lambeth Council is fully committed and supportive of civil partnerships. 'The Registrars’ service has never declined to administer a civil partnership enquiry, booking, taking of a notice or indeed delivering a ceremony or registration. ‘We are very clear that no one has, or ever will in the future, be turned down for a civil partnership for any reason other than that we cannot accommodate the date or time they request.’
The Civil Partnership Act, which allowed homosexuals to establish partnerships with all the legal rights of married couples, came into force in 2005.
Last year the Appeal Court ruled that a woman registrar in Islington, North London, who refused to perform the ceremonies because they were against her Christian beliefs broke the law. Judges said the right to express a strong Christian faith must take second place to the rights of homosexuals.
British privacy law proposed to stop rise in gagging orders by judges
Britain could get its first ever privacy law to stop judges creating one by stealth through the courts, a justice minister said. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Lord McNally suggested that the right to privacy could be enshrined in law after a number of celebrities were awarded so-called “super-injunctions” to gag the press.
But campaigners for freedom of speech will fear that any new privacy law could frustrate investigations by journalists that are clearly in the public interest, such as The Daily Telegraph’s inquiry last year into MPs’ expenses.
Lord McNally, a Liberal Democrat minister in the Ministry of Justice, was speaking after a spate of gagging orders on the press — which have been criticised in some cases for protecting the wealthy — were ordered by the courts.
Injunctions and super-injunctions — so called because even their existence cannot be reported — have been used by sportsmen such as golfers Colin Montgomerie and Tiger Woods, and John Terry, the former England football captain, to protect their privacy.
Last Friday, a leading Premier League footballer won a High Court injunction to prevent the publication of claims about his private life.
Lord McNally said: “There has been a general consensus that a new piece of legislation that clarifies, consolidates and removes some of the more dangerous aspects of the way case law has grown up is something that is desirable.”
The Coalition last month announced a consultation on a new defamation bill, claiming that the courts were restricting freedom of expression. The Bill would cover the growth in “no win, no fee” libel cases and build on an existing private members’ bill on libel law reform that was presented to the House of Lords in May by Lord Lester of Herne Hill, a Lib Dem peer.
However, Lord McNally suggested in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that the new legislation would go further, in effect creating a privacy law. He conceded that there were concerns that a privacy law had been created through successive rulings by judges. Some, such as Mr Justice Eady, have been heavily criticised.
Lord McNally said: “There was a danger that we were getting towards having privacy law by judicial decision. If we are going to have a privacy law it should be openly debated and freely decided by Parliament.”
The number of injunctions, in which a court orders a newspaper not to publish a story, has risen since the 1998 Human Rights Act. Lord McNally said that the newer “super-injunction” was “something that has caused concern and is something that will be dealt with”.
The Master of the Rolls, the most senior civil court judge in England and Wales, has set up a committee to examine the use of super-injunctions and other injunctions which impact on press freedom.
Lord McNally said super-injunctions were “something that has grown up by stealth, rather than by considered desire of Parliament and therefore they will be in the sights when they look at the reform of the law”. The new legislation would be a “consolidation” and “clarification” of the case law that will “hopefully remove some of the more onerous aspects of the way that case law has grown up”.
The Government could set up a joint committee of both Houses to take evidence in public “which would get us the balance that is needed”, he said. Hearings could take place next year, and proposals form the basis of a new Bill in the Queen’s Speech next autumn. The legislation could be on the statute books by 2012, he said.
Any new Bill would build on the work of Lord Lester, whose private members bill suggested that libel claimants will have to demonstrate “substantial harm” to their reputations if they want to sue successfully in the courts.
Lord McNally said a privacy law would not go as far as in France, where the media is heavily restricted. “For us, the collected wisdom is that our law as it stands is slightly out of kilter, has encouraged a certain amount of libel tourism and does need an overhaul,” he said.
The Ground Zero mosque controversy shows that America manages its hatreds better than others
Shikha Dalmia below rightly notes American tolerance but saying that Americans "hate" Muslims is too big a stretch. "Dislike" would be defensible, though. Americans have good reason to dislike many of the things that Muslims do -- murdering innocent Americans, for instance
Sarah Palin has not only revealed herself to be linguistically challenged in "refudiating" the proposed "mosque" near Ground Zero, but also emotionally overwrought. "It stabs hearts," she tweeted to her fellow mosque-bashers. But Palin notwithstanding, the way this country has comported itself during this controversy represents a damn fine moment for humanity. As a naturalized American, let me just say that if every country handled its hatreds as well as this one, this world wouldn't be a half-bad place to live in.
It is painfully obvious that opposition to the Cordoba House, as this structure would be called, is motivated less by a desire to protect the memory of 9/11 victims and more by a knee-jerk suspicion of Muslims. If it were not, mosque-bashers wouldn't have so much difficulty processing some basic but crucial facts about the structure. The "mosque," for instance, is not really a mosque but an Islamic community center--complete with a swimming pool, auditorium, bookstores and restaurants—along the lines of the many YMCAs or Jewish community centers around the country.
It will house a place of worship, but it won't blare muezzin calls summoning Muslims to pray five times a day, suggesting that it has a fairly relaxed attitude toward Quranic strictures. Nor will it be a Muslim-only place where members of other faiths are unwelcome; rather it will be open to anyone willing to pay its dues. Best (or worst) of all, it won't be "on" Ground Zero, but two blocks and a bend away at a spot not visible to World Trade Center visitors.
None of this is preventing some opponents from bizarrely suggesting that the center represents a surreptitious attempt to glorify Islamic victory on American soil. But a victory statement communicated through esoteric means negates itself because such means signal weakness, not strength. What's more, it is one odd victory statement when its alleged authors are not claiming any moral high ground for their putative side. To the contrary, the couple, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan, who are spearheading the center, have "refudiated" the 9/11 attacks in particular and Islamic terrorism in general.
They have qualms about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that plenty of nonterrorist Americans would share. And they are Sufis, the moderate and mystical sect of Islam that is known for its refined music and art, not its militancy. In fact, by all auguries, they are modern and liberated Muslims who seem rather embarrassed by the hot-headed jihadis who speak for their religion. Their whole project was conceived in order to highlight the more benign, moderate side of Islam and build bridges with other faiths. Newsweek Editor Fareed Zakaria is absolutely right when he notes that, "if there is ever going to be a reformist movement in Islam, it is going to emerge from places like the proposed mosque."
It is possible that the center is really an elaborate ruse for some sinister anti-American agenda—just as it is possible that America's next president could be a Manchurian candidate installed by the Chinese. But to suspect such an agenda in the face of massive evidence to the contrary testifies to just how deep-seated the suspicion against Muslims is in this country.
But this is precisely why it is all the more remarkable that this resentment hasn't boiled over into active persecution—something that would hardly be possible any place else in the world. To be sure, this controversy has triggered a backlash against other proposed mosques in the country, with opponents holding protest rallies with dogs in tow to taunt Muslims who regard dogs as napaak, or impure. And Republicans in some races have turned this controversy into something of a rallying cry to energize their base.
But that's about the worst of it.
On the other hand, to this country's enormous credit, New York City's Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously rejected demands that it subvert local zoning ordinances allowing houses of worship in the area "as a right" to scuttle the project. (Mosque opponents had wanted the commission to declare the existing Burlington Coat Factory on the site a landmark so that nothing else could be built there.)
The losers have appealed the decision, although they know they have virtually no chance of prevailing. Yet so far they have resorted not to violence but persuasion to convince the couple to go elsewhere. Even Palin's silly tweets are infused with a sweet civility, asking Muslims to reconsider as a gesture of goodwill toward their fellow Americans.
Her request might be wrong-headed, but can anyone think of another country where a major national figure would resort to gentle cajoling to win over members of a vilified minority? Certainly not in continental Europe, which is busy enacting burqa bans for no other reason except that the majority wants to bend a minority to its norms. And it would never happen in India, my native country, where Hindu lynch mobs, aided and abetted by the ruling Congress Party, orchestrated a mini pogrom of Sikhs following the 1984 assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguard.
It is out of question that a Sikh gurudwara could ever be erected next to Gandhi's residence, where she was assassinated, against the will of the majority Hindu population. And Indian Muslims have yet not been allowed to rebuild the mosque that Hindus led a national march to tear down with their bare hands in 1991—not even as recompense for the bloodletting they visited upon Muslims following the mosque razing.
The point is not to pick on any country. The point is that it is not easy, even for liberal democracies, to rein in the tyranny of the majority. That in America no majority can forcibly evict the imam and his family against his will is not nothing. Nor is the fact that if anyone tried to, they would have to contend with the full force of the law, in contrast to India where the perpetrators of the Sikh and Muslim massacres have still not been brought to justice. No people anywhere has yet found a way to rationally examine its hatreds before venting them. But at least America's commitment to property rights and religious liberties runs deep enough that it can contain that hatred.
America, in short, represents not just how far humanity has yet to travel on the road to complete civility, but how far humanity has already traveled. For now, if the rest of the world just caught up with America, it would be a huge leap forward for the cause of toleration.
Saudi comedy shows role reversal for men and women: provokes anger among male population
A role reversal comedy shown on Saudi television in which a woman marries four husbands has hit the very nerve it satirised - male pride and double standards.
The comedy was an episode in Saudi Arabia’s most celebrated satirical series, Tash Ma Tash or No Big Deal, a take-off of social prejudices shown annually during the holy month of Ramadan.
The central character takes four husbands, explaining herself using the conventional arguments Saudi men use to exercise their legal and religious privilege of marrying four times.
When she remarries for the first time she complains that her existing husband has stopped caring about his looks after five years, and is preoccupied with work.
The next marriage is for a dare with friends, and the fourth marriage, to a Syrian, she explains by saying that she is now bored with Saudi men.
Then she decides she wants to marry for a fifth time, making the four husbands draw lots to see who will be divorced and plunging them into a morass of jealousy.
Conservative imams, currently on the defensive as King Abdullah attempts to modernise some social attitudes in the country, have been predictably hostile, while men on internet bulletin boards have attacked the series as promoting prostitution.
“What this does is hurt us,” said one imam, Sheikh Saad Al-Buraik. “In the name of comedy, they make fun of our religion and beliefs.” There are regular calls to ban Tash Ma Tash, but it is said to be one of King Abdullah’s favourite programmes. Last week, an episode also provoked controversy, portraying two men who visit the brother of their dead mother, a foreign-born Arab, only to discover he is a Christian priest.
The shock lies in discovering that despite his religion, they come to respect him for his honesty and generosity.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
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