Wednesday, 29 February 2012

What the ABC said next

According to the  Daily Mail, the Archbishop of Canterbury has "declared" that the law has no right to legalise same-sex marriage or assisted dying. The Mail claims that,

"Dr Rowan Williams said a new marriage law for gay couples would amount to forcing unwanted change on the rest of the nation.He also said it would be wrong to legalise assisted dying because of the threat it would pose to the vulnerable and because it would go against the beliefs of most people". 
 Now, I don't know what the Archbishop has or hasn't said, but if, as it seems, the Daily Mail is claiming that Rowan Williams makes this declaration in his speech on human rights to the World Council of Churches, then one wonders how they reached their conclusions?
This is the section from which the Daily Mail - and The Telegraph (the usual culprits!) seem to have drawn their conclusions. Dr Williams said of the formulation of human rights laws:

"it may take time for a society to realize that its practice is inconsistent – with respect to women and to ethnic, religious or sexual minorities. Law may indeed turn out to be ahead of majority opinion in recognizing this, but it has a clear argument to advance – that the failure to guarantee protection and access is simply incompatible with the very idea of a lawful society. But this falls short of a legal charter to promote change in institutions, even in language. Law must prohibit publicly abusive and demeaning language, it must secure institutions that do not systematically disadvantage any category of the community. But these tasks remain ‘negative’ in force. If it is said, for example, that a failure to legalise assisted suicide – or indeed same-sex marriage - perpetuates stigma or marginalisation for some people, the reply must be, I believe, that issues like stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law, the gradual evolving of fresh attitudes in a spirit of what has been called ‘strategic patience’ by some legal thinkers. "
Rowan Williams always writes and speaks in ways that are extremely careful and nuanced. Even by the widest of definitions, he does not say in this speech that the law has no right to introduce same sex marriage or assisted dying. What he does say is exactly what is in the text - that he believes stigma and marginalisation have to be addressed at the level of culture rather than law, or even that he thinks they must be first addressed at the level of culture, thus requiring "strategic patience". I don't entirely agree with William's former point. I do believe that stigma and marginalisation need to be culturally challenged, I also believe that we need good laws to prevent the discrimination that arises out of stigma and marginalisation. Whether bringing in same sex marriage is a good law, or whether it is a law in line with newly evolved cultural attitudes, or whether it is  a step which is necessary to  prevent discrimination, are separate issues. Regular readers will broadly know my views on the issue, and also that I acknowledge that others  hold strong views.

Poor old Ro-Ro seems to be rather prone to people putting words in his mouth and publishing headlines about what they want him to say rather than what he actually did say. It looks a bit like the Shariah Law fiasco all over again. If anyone can find a different source for the Mail's claims about what the ABC said, please send me the link. Meanwhile, I strongly recommend you read his lecture on human rights and a faith based attitude to human rights- it makes interesting and worthwhile reading.

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