Conscientious objection has a long, honourable and courageous history. A conscientious objector is a person who refuses to wage war against another human being because of some ethical, moral or religious stance, and such objectors have suffered all manner of pain over the years for their principled stance.
Conscientious objectors are people who refuse to inflict pain or injury on their fellow man or woman, but this principle is not reversible.
It does not follow that anyone is free to inflict pain on their fellow man or woman because of their moral, ethical or religious beliefs. That sort of thing went out with the Inquisition in the Western world, though sadly we see similar attitudes surviving today in Islamic State, the Taliban and Boko Haram. And the ludicrous Iona Institute who pervert the concept of conscientious objection to include bigots, shame on them.
Of course, we would never speak today of oppression, and that’s why Archbishop Diarmuid Martin instead chose to talk about a conscience clause to protect Christians’ right to hold religious beliefs concerning same-sex marriage. Such a law would allow business people to refuse to print wedding invitations for same-sex couples, refuse to make a wedding cake for them and refuse to supply them with flowers or limousines.
This conscience clause would be based on the ultimate escape strategy that same-sex marriage is repugnant to their religious beliefs.
What an interesting idea.
All you need to do is adhere to a set of unproven, irrational, supernatural beliefs and you automatically have carte blanche to behave in any way you wish towards your fellow citizens, no matter how obnoxious your views might be.
Why would we exempt people from the law of the land simply because they have chosen to adopt a set of unsubstantiated beliefs? As Professor John Crown pointed out this morning on a radio discussion, there was a time when some American Baptist churches expressed an objection to black people marrying white people on religious grounds. If we accept that religious beliefs permit some people to discriminate against their fellow citizens, then how do we decide which religious beliefs are valid and which are not?
If we permit some bigots, like the ridiculous Iona Institute, to discriminate against same-sex couples, then surely we have to let all other bigots do the same, since their objections are all based on the same religious beliefs?
If a baker can refuse to supply a cake to a same-sex couple then he should be equally entitled to refuse an inter-racial couple, or a disabled couple, or whatever kind of couple his batty religion happens to hate.
If a Muslim printer can refuse a Jew because he thinks Jews are destroying the world, should we respect his religious convictions?
If a Hindu doctor refuses to treat a lower-caste Indian, should that be permitted?
What is this religious imperative that allows people to be bigoted?
Now, personally, I have to say that I don”t understand why anyone would buy a cake, a wedding invitation or a limo-ride from some drooling homophobe, but that’s not the point. The point is what we as a society are willing to accept.
We wouldn’t accept bigotry against multi-racial couples, so why would we accept it when it’s directed against people of the same sex, also known as our sons, our daughters, our brothers, our sisters and our friends?
Imagine the outcry if a baker refused to make a cake for people because they were African.
Did that outcry happen when a same-sex couple were refused?