Em trânsito

Estou em trânsito, nem cá nem lá. No percurso – sem acompanhar de perto a campanha do referendo –, dois artigos: interessante recensão de Chris Brown ao livro, acabado de publicar por Will Hutton, sobre a China. Há em Inglaterra um debate sobre a China; há também o livro de James Kynge, do Financial Times, traduzido em Portugal (e que me pareceu interessante). Segundo artigo, um editorial do Economist sobre um conflito entre igualdade e liberdade –  em que deve prevalecer a primeira. (Este, como é de acesso restrito, fica aqui depois da dobra.)

Liberty v equality
Render unto Caesar

Jan 25th 2007
From The Economist print edition

In the fight over Catholic adoption agencies in Britain, liberty should give way to equality

CHURCH and state have been battling in Britain since before Henry II had his Archbishop of Canterbury bumped off. But the row over gay adoption that burst into flames this week goes wider. Not only does it challenge the role of religion in a largely secular world; it also calls into question the degree to which respect for different customs and faiths in multicultural Britain should dilute the law of the land.

At issue is a new law forbidding businesses and organisations from discriminating against gays in the public provision of goods, facilities and services. The law is one step in a long journey that began with the Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 and the Race Relations Act a year later. Like its predecessors, it steps into the mine-ridden terrain where liberty—in this case, the freedom of citizens to live according to their religious beliefs—runs up against equality—the requirement that citizens treat members of groups they disapprove of as if they did not.

On January 22nd Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, the head of the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales, told Tony Blair that placing children with single-sex couples was against the teachings of the church. Unless Catholic adoption agencies were exempted from the rules they would be closed, he said. The following day the Anglican top brass—Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York—urged the prime minister not to ignore the rights of religious people in seeking to protect those of gays. This seemed odd, given that Anglican adoption agencies do cater to gay couples; but Anglicans, too, are worried that the state is increasingly muscling in on areas that should be left to private conscience and religious teaching.

The harried Mr Blair, under fire from civil libertarians, secularists and half his party, is now looking for a way to keep everyone happy—perhaps by granting Catholic agencies exemption from the law as long as they continue to refer unwanted applicants to other agencies with different views. But the case for Christian—or Muslim, should they seek to join the fray—exceptionalism would have to be compelling.

Those who support it argue that, in addition to the dictates of conscience, children’s rights must take precedence. This is of course correct. But while there is plenty of evidence that children from two-parent homes tend to do better than those with one or no parent, there is virtually none to suggest that the sexual orientation of those parents affects the outcome. And in many cases the alternative to adoption by a gay couple (or a single parent) is languishing in care.

A second argument is that the system cannot afford to lose Catholic adoption agencies. Although they accounted for only 4% of all children placed each year, they are good at finding homes for older children, and those with special needs and lots of siblings. But it is hard to stand up claims that they can reach families who would be unwilling to adopt elsewhere.


Give it time

Part of the unease over the gay-discrimination rules is that they are new. It would not occur to many to defend the exclusion of black adoptive parents, for example. Churches, like societies, do change. Just as most Christians have reconciled themselves to lending money at interest and most Jews do not examine the labels in their clothes to see if they contain mixed wool and flax, so homosexual parents may come to seem another variety in the bewildering gamut of family structures.

But should the state force that process? There are two issues here. The first is financial. Catholic adoption agencies receive public money for their efforts—both directly, in the form of grants, and indirectly through the tax break that any charity receives. If they are exempted from the law, they should also be relieved of subsidies from the taxpayers whose representatives approved it. The matter could be left there, and the adoption agencies exempted from the law. There are plenty of examples of exceptions to the rules. The Economist‘s London offices are surrounded by gentlemen’s clubs, for example, to which ladies are admitted only as guests. But private clubs do not offer public services. Adoption agencies do; which strengthens the argument for making them abide by the rules.

The tension between freedom and equality cannot always be resolved satisfactorily; but there are not compelling reasons to exempt adoption agencies. The law should be enforced.


Sobre Ivan Nunes

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