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Opinions contained in The Iona Blog are not necessarily those of The Iona Institute. The Iona Blog is open to anyone who broadly shares the views of The Iona Institute. If you wish to post a comment on a relevant topic please email 200 – 400 words to [email protected] and it will be considered for inclusion in the blog.

Religion and politics in same boat [David Quinn]

The '23rd Report on British Social Attitudes' came out a fortnight ago. It reports, among many other things, a decline in membership of political parties and trades unions.

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Mixed race families and gay adoption [David Quinn]

Here is something new. White couples from Europe and elsewhere are travelling to India to be impregnated via fertility clinics with the embryos of Indian women.

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Individualisation: Fine Gael hedging its bets? [David Quinn]

To its great credit, the Labour party has unambiguously declared that the current system of tax individualisation discriminates against single-income married couples in favour of dual-income married couples.

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Archbishop hits the mark on marriage [Tom O'Gorman]

It is all too rare to see a respected public figure put forward the case for marriage in a cogent, comprehensive and unapologetic fashion. That's why it was refreshing to read yesterday's speech by Archbishop Rowan Williams on the subject.

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Iona Institute Poll Summarised [Tony Allwright]

As we know, the Iona Institute kicked itself off last month with a poll regarding family arrangements which sought, from a cross-section of 950 people across Ireland, their agreement/disagreement with seven statements (ref).

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Gay Adoption in the UK [Tony Allwright]

Britain's' Equality Act of 2006 is a piece of legislation pushed into being under EU pressure. Its laudable aim is to outlaw discrimination towards people on grounds of - listed in this order - age, disability, gender, sex-change, race, religion, belief or sexual orientation. (The order is interesting. Is there an implied hierarchy that values my aged transgenderism over your one-legged voodoo?).

On a general level, there is nothing much controversial about the bill, which was passed with ease. But, as always, the devil is in the detail.

The devil in this case is the issue of child-adoption by gays: the law as it stands makes it illegal to refuse to hand a child over for adoption if the sole reason is that the prospective parents are gay. The Catholic church, which handles a third of Britain's thousands of adoptions, has, in a rare bout of courage, denounced this part of the legislation, and said that in the absence of a derogation, it will close down its adoption agencies rather than comply. The Church of England quickly followed suit, as did a few Muslim leaders. They all make the point that, to them, homosexual practices are sinful and provide an unsuitable backdrop for bringing up children. Even many atheists, for whom the concept of sin does not exist, might however agree with the second part.

The Cabinet, with the exception of the prime minister whose wife is a Catholic and the doughty Opus Dei diehard Ruth Kelly, have all declared - including even the Catholic heavyweight John Reid - that the churches will get no exemption.

When I was small, the longest word I knew (but couldn't spell or understand) was antidisestablishmentarianism, which I eventually learnt meant wanting the state to remain wedded to the Church (of England); a desire for some continued theocracy you might say. Well, other than the Head of State being also the chief of the Church and not being allowed to marry a Catholic, that's clearly a lost cause in the UK - for the moment anyway. If you ever doubted the separation of Church and State, the Cabinet's determination to stampede the Christian churches is the definitive statement.

But will it prevail; can it win a confrontation?

This depends on whether the churches - particularly the Catholics - will continue to be strong on the issue. That means that when, for example, a Catholic adoption agency is first confronted with the possibility of having to assign a child to gays, it must either dissolve itself, as Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the Catholics' boss in England and Wales, has threatened, or else deliberately ignore and flout the law as Archbishop Mario Conti in Scotland has threatened.

This will lead to a classic confrontation of values and discrimination hierarchies. Will the British government be willing enough

  • to assume responsibility for countless would-be adoptees thrown onto the street by dissolved agencies, or
  • to mount a criminal prosecution against the Catholic church?

The church will argue it is acting in accordance with its own sincerely-held beliefs and teachings, and claim that to prevent it from doing so is to discriminate against it and its members on purely religious grounds, itself a breach of the 2006 Equality Act. And note that the Act places religion ahead of sexual orientation in the list of things that are discrimination-worthy.

This would be a hugely polarising issue, which regardless of the eventual outcome, could not fail to make the government look foolish. Yet simply to succumb to the church's defiance will make it look pretty stupid also. It really cannot win, but the longer the controversy goes on the worse it will look. (Mr Blair's deferral of full implementation of the Equality Act by the churches until 2009 is merely kicking the issue into touch until after he leaves office.)

That's why Mr Blair's cabinet should take a leaf out of Bertie Ahern's book, and without delay grant the churches the derogation they are seeking.


Fukayama and State-funded schools [David Quinn]

Francis Fukayama made his name with the book 'The End of History'. This postulated that the age-old struggle to find the best way of ordering our political life together had ended with the defeat of communism and the victory of liberal democracy.

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Affluenza or secularism? [David Quinn]

The psychologist Oliver James, who made his name with 'Britain on the Couch', has a new book out called 'Affluenza'. It's not his term, it been around for a few years, but basically it amounts to an extreme bout of consumerism, the idea that we are what we own, that we are fulfilled by what we own, and that we can't be happy unless we're keeping up, and passing out, the Joneses.

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Do children need a mother and father? [David Quinn]

The fierce debate taking place in England over whether or not Church adoption agencies should be forced to consider homosexual couples as prospective parents rages around three issues, namely the principle of non-discrimination, religious freedom and the rights of children.

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Church unity on gay adoption welcome [Tom O'Gorman]

The news that Anglican leaders in the UK have lent their voices to Catholic opposition to New Labour's plan to force religious adoption agencies to consider homosexual couples for adoption is welcome. Quite apart from the political significance of the statement from Archbishop Rowan Williams and Archbishop John Sentamu backing Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, it is of profound significance from an ecumenical point of view.

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Our commentators' blind spot [David Quinn]

The importance of religious freedom is one of the themes of the Iona Institute. Religious freedom belongs roughly in same the category as freedom of conscience, that is, it is part of the freedom to act in accordance with your beliefs. In a liberal society, of course, that means doing so in a way that doesn't do harm to others. (Although we can argue all day about what exactly constitutes harms to others.)

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Government sharp practice on referendum? [Tom O'Gorman]

According to reports (see news), the Government is planning to lump together a series of proposals concerning children's rights in their proposed referendum in March or April. Reports suggest that the proposed wording may impact upon three seperate articles of the Constitution.

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Politically incorrect remarks not always political folly [Tom O'Gorman]

Drink driving is on the agenda again. This time, however, the story appears to have taken something of a surreal twist. Rural politicians, always on the look out for a way to shore up a few more votes, seem to have zeroed in on the issue.

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Cohabitation and marriage [David Quinn]

A new study says that when the State creates civil partnerships (so-called 'marriage-lite') marriage rates are not affected. (Read more). The fear of some individuals has been that by making civil partnerships an alternative to marriage, the number of people getting married would drop as a direct result. According to this study at any rate, this has not happened.

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Questions on the family [Tom Carew]

I write as a citizen increasingly concerned with multiple social breakdown in Irish and other Western Societies, and with the frequent absence of rational ethical or social policy debate in the media, along with the substitution of emotion and "compassion" for reasons, reasoning, comparative research, and hard evidence.

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What makes us happy [Tom O'Gorman]

A new report commissioned by the British Government sets out to discover what makes us happy. (See news). It turns out that having time to spend with other people is one of the big drivers of human happiness. Hardly a surprise.

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Attention Pat Rabbitte [David Quinn]

If he hasn't already seen it, here's something that might interest Pat Rabbitte. In Australia the new leader of the Labor party, Kevin Rudd, is trying to re-orientate the industrial relations debate. Instead of focusing in purely on issues like pay and conditions, Rudd is trying to highlight the effect of work practices on our relationships. (Read more).

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Introducing ‘plural marriage’ [David Quinn]

To you and me it’s called polygamy but the new and more polite name for it is ‘plural marriage’ and in America the move is on to have it legalised.

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Referendum on children still poses uncomfortable questions [Tom O'Gorman]

Yesterday's Irish Times front page story appeared to be good news for the many people concerned about Government proposals to change the definition of the family to give rights to children. But certain questions remain.

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Guardian poll on religion [David Quinn]

The headline in the Guardian over Christmas read: “Religion does more harm than good”. The sub-head read: “82pc say faith causes tension in country where two thirds are not religious”.

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"If I were asked to design a system for making sure that children's basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the two-parent ideal...The fact that both parents have a biological connection to the child would increase the likelihood that the parents would identify with the child and be willing to sacrifice for that child, and it would reduce the likelihood that either parent would abuse the child.."

Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, "Growing up with a single parent: What hurts, what helps."