Anti-discrimination

Anthony Savilie wonders what new offence is about to make its way onto the statute book

That April European Union Directive? Is it a major step towards the outlawing of traditional Christian life, or just another daft product from the Franco-German border, akin to the outlawing of bendy bananas?

The recent Anti-Discrimination Directive was adopted by the EU Parliament on 2 April by 360 votes to 227. It will apply to all organizations offering a service to the public, and this will include all housing associations, hospitals, charities, businesses, prisons, and churches.

Changes made during the legislative process have altered the thrust of what the EU Commission originally proposed. It could, so many in the media suggested, force Christian and other religious groups to perform homosexual 'marriages' and allow non-believers to receive Communion and other sacraments in their churches. If marriage and sacraments are classified as a service', which is being offered to members of the public, then there should be no discrimination against anyone on any grounds, including religious grounds.

The directive is intended to reduce all forms of discrimination, on grounds of religion or belief, age, disability or sexual orientation, whether direct or indirect, and whether based on 'real or presumed criteria'. It comes on top of three existing directives: one on discrimination based on ethnic origin, one on discrimination in the labour market, and one on gender equality. All these goals were [as they say] 'reaffirmed by members of the European Parliament'.

'Parliament also believes [I continue to cite the official report] the directive should cover multiple discrimination, based on two or more grounds, as well as discrimination by association.'

The driving force behind this has been the Dutch Green MEP, Kathalijne Buitenweg. Her basic argument is simple and compelling: it should not be up to the person discriminated against to have to choose on which particular basis to make his/her complaint. The example she chose was a black lesbian woman. Has she been discriminated against because of her race, because of her gender, or because of her sexual orientation? It should not be her responsibility to work out which of the three has been (unlawfully) applied against her.

As another campaigner put it, At present, for example, a gay woman in a wheelchair who is discriminated against will usually be forced to choose on what ground she suspects the discrimination took place when she files a formal complaint. Thanks to these proposals, people will no longer be forced to make such an absurd choice.'

A spokesman for the Christian Institute, said, 'UK discrimination law is already pretty extreme, as the forced closure of Roman Catholic adoption agencies shows. The Directive would make things even worse by transferring ultimate control of equality law to Brussels, beyond the control of our own Parliament.'

'Multiple discrimination and 'discrimination by association - we shall need to learn more about what these technical terms are going to mean.

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