Tag Archive | equality

Diversity and Equality

Diversity and equality are two things that we hear about a lot today. Both are terms that most of us probably understand, but they are curiously hard terms to define. An organisation can be said to be diverse if it has a wide range of different viewpoints on a particular issue represented among its members, or it can be diverse if it has a wide range of people who are members. For example, an organisation could be politically diverse if some of its members were politically right-wing, some were politically left-wing, and some were politically middle-of-the-road. An organisation could be racially diverse if it contained people who came from a wide range of different races.

An organisation can be said to have equality on a particular issue if an individual’s beliefs or attributes on that issue do not affect the individual’s standing within the organisation. An organisation has political equality if an individual’s political views do not affect their standing within the organisation, and it has racial equality if an individual’s race does not affect their standing within the organisation.

It would, of course, be foolish for all organisations to be diverse and equal on all issues. A few years ago I had abdominal surgery. The hospital where I had surgery did not have educational diversity when it came to surgeons. All of their surgeons had been to medical school, for which I was profoundly grateful. However, in general, diversity and equality are things that should be strived for.

Diversity and equality are good things, but they are different things, and that means that sometimes they have competing needs. Consider a hypothetical company, Widget Co. Widget Co has a diversity policy that says all political viewpoints are tolerated within the company. They also have an equality policy that says all staff members are treated equally, regardless of sex.

One day, Widget Co’s head of HR has a problem. One member of staff, Bob, has flat-out refused to work with another member, Alice. Bob’s political views have changed, and he now thinks that due to high levels of unemployment, women shouldn’t be allowed to work when there are unemployed men who could do the job.1 If he works with Alice he feels his political views are not respected.

What should HR do?

The answer is pretty obvious. Bob is in the wrong. The competing rights of diversity and equality have clashed, and equality has won.

Why has equality won? Equality has won because the only reason for having diversity is because diversity is one of the things that leads to equality. People being treated equally is far more important than having a diverse range of views.

Think about my examples above. If an organisation has a great range of ethnicities but only people of one ethnicity can reach senior levels then the organisation has diversity but not equality, and I think we can see that it is racist. On the other hand, if an organisation has members of only one ethnicity, but would treat any new member the same regardless of ethnicity, then it lacks diversity but it has equality. It may want to ask why the members are from only one ethnicity, but an organisation that is fundamentally equal can easily accommodate diversity.

A few years ago, when I was still living in Belfast, I used to go to the weekday lunchtime services at St George’s. Sometimes there were a lot of people there, other times there was just a handful. There was equality: everybody was welcome, regardless of sex, gender, denomination, race, and a host of other criteria. On one memorable occasion there were only about six of us, and we were all white men. On that occasion, there was no diversity, but there was still equality. Diversity without equality is quite a different beast. The services would have been quite different if the congregation had been a mix of races and sexes but only white men were allowed to lead.

When, as a Christian, I think about equality my thoughts always come back to Galatians 3:26-28. I also think about Acts 10:34 and 35:

Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. (NIV)

Equality is a fundamental Christian virtue. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to me as a Christian. Diversity is merely the servant of equality, and when they compete, it is always equality than must win.

1 This might seem like a contrived example, but a female relative once had a colleague who expressed such a view.

Graded Objectives in Modern Equality

Back in the early 1990s, I was studying for my GCSEs. The year before I sat my GCSE French exams, I sat another set of exams in French: a NISEAC Graded Objective in Modern Languages. The Graded Objective in French was essentially a GCSE-lite qualification. It was a subset of what GCSE French covered. After completing my GCSE in French, I never again used my Graded Objective qualification. It had been superseded.

In 2011, I formed a civil partnership with my now-husband. In 2016, I married him. Although the differences between a civil partnership and a marriage are much smaller than the differences between a Graded Objective and a GCSE, the situation is similar. The marriage supersedes the civil partnership.

Has my relationship with my husband changed? No, but the legal recognition of that relationship has changed. The differences between marriage and civil partnership depend on which jurisdiction you are talking about (here are some examples for Ireland, and here are some for England and Wales). For us, the key issue is that we are no longer “separate but equal”; we are now equal. In the eyes of the law, our relationship has exactly the same standing as the relationship between my best friend, Rob, and his wife, Emma. That equality in the eyes of the law is both driven by and a driving force for being seen as equal in the eyes of society.

Marriage and religion


John and Andrew McFarland Campbell. Photo: Rob Moir

In 2011, we formed our civil partnership. The next day, we married in church. We are both Christian, and as such we wanted to get married in church. That ceremony had no legal standing, but it is the one that we regard as being the official start of our married relationship. In Northern Ireland, same-sex marriage is not currently legal, and there is a campaign to make same-sex civil marriage legal. That doesn’t go far enough, as the campaign apparently ignores people in same-sex relationships who want same-sex religious marriage. As well as being an issue of civil rights, marriage equality is an issue of religious freedom. In a country where an opposite-sex couple can choose to get married in a church or other religious venue (if the church or venue wants to marry them) but a same-sex couple can only be married in a civil, secular ceremony, there is still discrimination against same-sex couples, albeit significantly attenuated discrimination.

I believe that one day this discrimination will end completely, but until then we should all be aware that not everyone is allowed to progress beyond a Graded Objective in Modern Language.

Support for Equal Marriage in Northern Ireland

Liberal Democrats in Northern Ireland

The Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey recently asked

Do you think marriages between same-sex couples should or should not be recognised by the law as valid, with the same rights as traditional marriages?

57% of people surveyed agreed they should be valid, with only 32% saying that they should not be. That means that in Northern Ireland, nearly twice as many people support equal marriage as oppose it.

As a Liberal Democrat, I support equal marriage, and it is encouraging to see that there is such broad support for it even in Northern Ireland, which is traditionally a socially conservative part of the United Kingdom. It is common for Northern Irish politicians to oppose marriage equality on grounds such as “the people of Northern Ireland don’t want it”. Thanks to this survey, we know that this is not the case.

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A New Ulster Covenant

It is just over a hundred years since the Ulster Covenant was signed. There was a small celebration of this in Belfast yesterday. Reading the text of the Covenant, I was struck by how powerful the language was: it talks about civil and religious freedom, and equal citizenship. These are issues that are at the heart of the marriage equality debate.

It may be because I have lived in East Belfast for my whole life, but it sometimes seems that there is strong opposition to equal marriage from the Unionist end of the political spectrum. This got me thinking. Can the fundamental principles of the Covenant be used to argue against marriage inequality as powerfully as they argued against Home Rule?

BEING CONVINCED in our consciences that continued marriage inequality would be disastrous to the material well-being of Northern Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom, destructive of our citizenship, and perilous to the unity of the United Kingdom, we, whose names are underwritten, men and women of Northern Ireland, loyal subjects of Her Gracious Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, humbly relying on the God whom our mothers and fathers in days of stress and trial confidently trusted, do hereby pledge ourselves in solemn Covenant, throughout this our time of threatened calamity, to stand by one another in defending, for ourselves and our children, our cherished position of equal citizenship in the United Kingdom, and in using all legitimate political means which may be found necessary to bring about marriage equality in Northern Ireland. In sure confidence that God will defend the right, we hereto subscribe our names.

And further, we individually declare that we have not already signed this Covenant.

You can download a copy of this Covenant to sign and return to me for collation.

Who is Harmed by Same-Sex Marriage?

Imagine that the law was changed tomorrow. Instead of  the law defining marriage as being a union between a man and a woman, the law changed its definition of marriage to being a union between two adults. The rules regarding everything else—age, degree of consanguinity, and so on—remain as they are now. The only change is that now two people of the same sex can get married, not just two people of the opposite sex.

Now, ask yourself this question: who is actually harmed by this?

Every existing marriage continues as it was before. Nobody’s relationship is harmed. Nobody’s family is harmed.  No religious group is harmed: those religions that had been allowed to perform marriages on behalf of the state (as long as the couple meets the religion’s requirements for marriage) will still be able to perform marriages on behalf of the state (as long as the couple meets the religion’s requirements for marriage).

Sure, some people may feel uncomfortable at the thought, but am I harmed because you make me feel uncomfortable? True, there will be some people who hold a religious objection to same-sex marriage, but not allowing me to impose my religious views on you is not harming me. Yes, it might become harder to discriminate against same-sex couples, but making it more difficult for me to be prejudiced is not harming me.

So, who is harmed by same-sex marriage?

Marriage and Civil Partnerships

There has been a lot of talk about the dangers of gay marriage over the past few weeks. Allowing gay people to get married would, it is alleged, damage society and harm families. Not only that, but gay people themselves don’t want to get married, as shown by the low take up rates of gay marriage where it is available.

In the UK, we don’t have gay marriage, at least not at the moment. We do have a very similar institution: civil partnerships. These have been around since late 2005, and the statistics are interesting. In England and Wales between 2006 and 2010, there were 40,921 civil partnerships. Over the same period there were 1,184,158 marriages.

In other words, 3.34% of all legal unions in England and Wales were civil partnerships, and the rest   (96.66%) were marriages. The figures, broken down by year, are shown in the following table and graph.

Year Marriages Civil Partnerships Total % Civil Partnerships
2006 239,454 14,943 254,397 5.87
2007 235,367 7,929 243,296 3.26
2008 235,794 6,558 242,352 2.71
2009 232,443 5,687 238,130 2.39
2010 241,100 5,804 246,904 2.35
Total 1,184,158 40,921 1,225,079 3.34

When you look at the graph, you can see that civil partnerships are a small proportion of legal unions. So small, in fact, that it seems pretty incredible to think that they are destroying, or even significantly harming ‘traditional’ marriage. If the 3.34% of civil partnerships are destroying the 96.66% of marriages, then marriage must have been pretty weak to begin with. If you argue that gay marriage somehow debases, changes or harms straight marriage, then you are actually arguing that straight marriage is a very weak institution.

When you look at the figures, you can see how important civil partnerships are. In England and Wales there are nearly 82 thousand people who have had their relationships recognised by the state. That’s 82 thousand people who don’t have to worry about things like next-of-kin visiting rights in hospital. 82 thousand people whose lives have been improved. Has anyone actually been harmed by civil partnerships?

There is a third significant observation about these figures, which we can only see when we look at additional data. According to Sexual Behaviour in Britain, 90.2% of men and 92.4% of women report exclusively heterosexual experience and attraction. If the scope is widened to include people who have experienced mostly heterosexual attraction or experience, the figures are 96.0% and 97% respectively1. You would expect that the gender you are mostly or exclusively attracted to would be the gender you end up marrying. Roughly 96% to 97% of people are mostly or exclusively heterosexual and roughly 97% of legal unions are (heterosexual) marriages. Gay people (or people in gay relationships) are availing themselves of civil partnerships at the same rate that straight people (or people in straight relationships) are availing themselves of marriage. It would seem that gay people want to get married just as much as straight people.

These figures show that marriage equality can’t hurt ‘traditional’ marriage, and gay people are just as keen to have their relationships recognised by the state as straight people are. People already see civil partnerships as the same as marriage. The time has come for legislation to catch up. The time has come for equal marriage.

1 Wellings et al, Sexual Behaviour in Britain, Penguin Books, 1994, p183