Friday, October 26, 2007

Talk about Discrimination

I ran across this sad story of a Christian couple in the U.K. who had their foster son taken away from them because they refused to teach him about homosexuality. Unfortunately, I fear it's only a matter of time before Christians will have to deal with this kind of discrimination in the U.S.:

    They are devoted foster parents with an unblemished record of caring for almost 30 vulnerable children.

    But Vincent and Pauline Matherick will this week have their latest foster son taken away because they have refused to sign new sexual equality regulations.

    To do so, they claim, would force them to promote homosexuality and go against their Christian faith.

    The 11-year-old boy, who has been in their care for two years, will be placed in a council hostel this week and the Mathericks will no longer be given children to look after.

    The devastated couple, who have three grown up children of their own, became foster parents in 2001 and have since cared for 28 children at their home in Chard, Somerset.

    Earlier this year, Somerset County Council's social services department asked them to sign a contract to implement Labour's new Sexual Orientation Regulations, part of the Equality Act 2006, which make discrimination on the grounds of sexuality illegal.

    Officials told the couple that under the regulations they would be required to discuss same-sex relationships with children as young as 11 and tell them that gay partnerships were just as acceptable as heterosexual marriages.

    They could also be required to take teenagers to gay association meetings.

    When the Mathericks objected, they were told they would be taken off the register of foster parents.

    The Mathericks have decided to resign rather than face the humiliation of being expelled.

    Mr Matherick, a 65-year-old retired travel agent and a primary school governor, said: "I simply could not agree to do it because it is against my central beliefs.

    "We have never discriminated against anybody but I cannot preach the benefits of homosexuality when I believe it is against the word of God."

    Mrs Matherick, 61, said they had asked if they could continue looking after their foster son until he is found a permanent home, but officials refused and he will be placed in a council hostel on Friday.

    (Full article)
I pray that day will never come.

5 comments:

Adam said...

First, same story, different source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/10/24/nfoster124.xml

Second, the offending statute:
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2007/20071263.htm#15

Section 15(2) states “nothing in these Regulations shall make it unlawful for such a voluntary adoption agency or fostering agency to restrict the provision of its services or facilities to a person on the grounds of his sexual orientation.”

So, why was the child taken away?
The Mathericks refused to sign a contract.
Why did they refuse to sign a contract, the signing of which was necessary to keep the child in their home?
The contract contained a provision onerous to their beliefs.
What was the onerous provision?
Not having the contract language at my disposal, let’s look at the Daily Telegraph report.
Quote:
Officials told the couple that under the regulations they would be required to discuss same-sex relationships with children as young as 11 and tell them that gay partnerships were just as acceptable as heterosexual marriages.
They could also be required to take teenagers to gay association meetings.

That’s not what Mr. Matherick said. Later in the article, he is quoted

"They were saying that we had to be prepared to talk about sexuality with 11-year-olds, which I don't think is appropriate anyway, but not only that, to be prepared to explain how gay people date.
"They said we would even have to take a teenager to gay association meetings.
"How can I do that when it's totally against what I believe?"

Again, not having the contract language, I can only surmise to what prospective carers must agree. Based on the statutory language and Mr. Matherick’s statement, the prior contractual language obliged foster parents to be prepared to talk about sexuality with 11-year-olds. While finding this “inappropriate,” such a requirement was not offensive enough preclude their willingness to be foster parents through the county. Umbrage was taken at being forced to sign a contract that would oblige the couple to not shelter a child from information about homosexuality when such interest is expressed. From the Telegraph report:

[The Mathericks] said that officials had advised them that if children in their care expressed an interest in homosexuality, they would be expected to take them to gay support group meetings.

The Mathericks are unwilling to agree to provide an environment that would treat a child expressing an interest in homosexuality the same way as a child expressing interest in heterosexuality.

The contract does not discriminate against Christians. Abstracted from the language of the Equality Act, a person (“A”) discriminates against another ("B") if, on grounds of [some trait] of B or any other person except A, A treats B less favourably than he treats or would treat others (in cases where there is no material difference in the relevant circumstances). If Somerset County selectively enforces contractual provisions based on the professed religious beliefs of the other contracting party, an allegation of discrimination would have merit.

I cannot argue that some Christians may feel as though their values or beliefs are “under siege” or that values or beliefs previously entrenched in the body politic are losing their hold, but I cannot abide the sweeping comment that the actions of the Somerset County Council discriminate against Christians; a large subset of Christians would have signed the contract without a second thought.

You will no doubt continue to address issues you believe impinge upon your faith, I expect nothing less, but know that you lose rhetorical credibility by making overly broad or inclusive statements.

Adam said...

those links, again

As told by the Telegraph

The Equality Act

Lee Shelton said...

"The Mathericks are unwilling to agree to provide an environment that would treat a child expressing an interest in homosexuality the same way as a child expressing interest in heterosexuality."

So? If homosexuality goes against their religious beliefs, what else would you expect? Should parents, foster or otherwise, be expected to encourage children to indulge all interests in every other type of sexually deviant behavior?

(Sorry. Was that another one of those "overly broad" statements?)

Adam said...

Yes, I think it was an overly broad statement. The state’s relationship between parents and foster parents is substantially different. A state and its agents have the privilege of controlling with whom they contract as long as they do not violate their own anti-discrimination laws. The relationship between the state and foster parents is contractual and, I believe, appropriately so. Whether or not I agree with the filter, I do not believe this filter is legally discriminatory. The Mathericks disagree and have retained counsel to represent them as is their right.

The issue quickly devolves into a public policy matter: is the (alleged psychological) harm done to homosexual children so substantial as to outweigh the rights of foster parents to shield children from exposure to specific types of homosexual (or other allegedly deviant sexual) education or supportive communities? If the answer to this is yes, then the state has an obligation, as the child’s temporary custodian, to avoid placing the child in such a home. If the answer is no, then the state does not have a justification for depriving foster parents of the right to raise a child as they see fit.

So no, I do not believe that foster parents should be obliged to “encourage children to indulge all interests in every other type of sexually deviant behavior.” I do not believe that deprivation of education in “every other type of sexually deviant behavior” is so substantially harmful to the psyche of a child that parents should have the right to parent as they see fit abrogated.

An analogous argument would be whether or not the state can decide to terminate a contract with foster parents on the basis of corporal punishment. How severe is the punishment? A slap? A spank? A belt? A closed fist? The state has to weigh very carefully the harm to the child against the rights of the parent.

While I suppose this comparison is unconvincing to those who believe that homosexuality is a choice, phase, or “indulgence,” the reality remains that when a state is presented with evidence that deprivation of parental and communal support for homosexual children is harmful, it has an affirmative obligation to take some action.

If an individual or group wants to reverse the course of legislation like the Equality Act, they need to make arguments cognizable to a legislative or judicial body. Argue that there is no psychological harm to the child. Argue that if there is, it is not analogous to physical harm. Argue that even if the harm is substantial, it does not rise to the level necessary to abrogate parental rights. Arguing that homosexuality is deviant behavior or that such laws discriminate against religious tradition X, Y, or Z are losing propositions because they lack legal authority. They play well in mass media, but they do not play well in court. I am quite sure that the Mathericks’ lawyers will not rely on the pundits’ favorite slippery slope argument that our society is becoming a veritable Sodom and Gomorrah.

Lee Shelton said...

As for the state’s relationship between parents and foster parents being "substantially different," I agree, and I wouldn't venture to comment further on that without seeing the actual contract in question. My immediate concern is that this could spill over into adoption. And if that happened, who's to say the relationship between biological children and their parents wouldn't be affected?

It was never my intent to try to build a legal defense for the Mathericks or anyone else. My overly broad statements had more to do with the similar overly broad statements hurled from the other side. How many times have we heard that gay individuals or same-sex couples are the victims of discrimination? We already have so-called "hate crimes" laws specifically tailored to single out such groups for special protection.

Personally, I would like to see less government involvement in just about everything to do with the family. That goes for marriage as well as the raising of children.

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