Tag Archives: discrimination

Discrimination discrimination

You’re not seeing double. In this post I am going to discuss the fact that some forms of discrimination are illegal, while others are not, despite being just as unacceptable. Some forms of discrimination are being discriminated against. This is discrimination discrimination. I will also use this post to discuss the ridiculous notion of “positive” discrimination.

Currently there is a specific list of grounds you aren’t allowed to discriminate on: things such as race, sex and religion. There are also specific hate crimes, including inciting racial hatred and racially motivated attacks.

It’s obviously a good thing that we have discrimination laws. But there are countless traits that people might have that it would be wrong to discriminate against. By having a system where unlawful discrimination grounds have to be explicitly listed, it makes it lawful to discriminate against people for reasons that are just as unacceptable. It would be legal to not give someone a job because you didn’t like their favourite colour, even if they were the best candidate in every other respect, whereas it would be illegal to do so if you didn’t like their religion. Why the difference?

It is obviously the case that some forms of discrimination, such as racial discrimination, have been more of a problem over the years, than, say, discrimination on the grounds of shoe type, but that’s not important when it comes to individual cases. If someone is beaten up for wearing a green trainers, it’s no consolation to them that it hasn’t happened to many other people. This is just as serious as a case where someone is beaten up for being black.

When a crime is committed, all the motivating factors need to be looked at. And all other things being equal, it makes no difference if someone decided to attack someone for being black or if they attacked them because they didn’t like the look of their trainers. Both are equally unacceptable. Of course, I fully support the drive to eliminate racism that we’ve had over the last few decades, but this mustn’t be at the expense of rational thought. People have been conditioned to think this is exclusively the worst form of discrimination, and that even uttering a specific word makes you a bad person. After Jeremy Clarkson was heard apparently mumbling the “n-word”, Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, in calling for him to be sacked, said that anyone who uses this word, in whatever context, privately or publicly, does not belong on the BBC. We need to eliminate racism, but not by switching off our brains, as Harriet Harman appears to have done here. In fact, by giving individual words such force and power rather than looking at general beliefs and attitudes, we’re giving racists a powerful weapon. It’s absurd that we can’t even talk about the word without having to refer to it in code, as even I seem to have done. It’s not the “n-word”; it’s “nigger”.

I will now move onto so-called “positive” discrimination. For example, Labour have used all-women shortlists for parliamentary candidates, because of the low number of female MPs. But this is as illogical as it is discriminatory, regardless of what word you put at the front of it. If fewer women than men are going into politics, or if prospective female candidates have been overlooked in favour of prospective male candidates, despite being as competent or even more so, then it is right to look at why this might be, but further discrimination is not the right way to fix it. Putting a woman in a position over a better-qualified man does not somehow make up for a completely different woman unfairly losing out to a completely different man on a completely different occasion. It just adds to the sum total of unfair discrimination. It’s almost as if women as a whole and men as a whole are considered to be two single entities rather than being made up of separate individuals.

There is the argument that because half of the population are female, they should be proportionally represented. Firstly, we don’t have proportional representation. Each constituency has its own single MP, so half the population will have an MP the same sex as them and half won’t regardless of the male to female MP ratio. And secondly, people want MPs to represent their views, and their ability to do this is not solely based on their sex. Male MPs can represent female constituents and vice versa. We’re supposed to be driving out sexism so it shouldn’t make any difference if your MP is of the same sex as you.

Similarly, there was a recent EU vote in favour of requiring at least 40% of companies’ board members to be female. It is not law yet, but this is a step on the way. This clearly makes no logical sense and would not address the heart of the problem anyway. If females are discriminated against in the workplace, then this needs to be looked at at all levels, not just at the top, where it would only affect a small proportion of people. And if fewer than 40% of people being considered for board positions in a company are female, it’s likely to mean that not only will many men face unfair discrimination, but that it would actually be illegal for them not to.

The Green Party, disappointingly, does not allow their leader to be of the same sex as their deputy leader. As far as I can tell, there’s no rule against them having the same shoe size, or a rule stating that only one of them can be bald.

My point here is that we should strive to eliminate all forms of unfair discrimination, and not arbitrarily pick and choose some forms of discrimination to be unacceptable and some to be acceptable.

It’s time to abolish the legal concept of marriage

Last weekend, same-sex marriage was legalised in England and Wales, and was seen as a victory for equality. Indeed, while we still have the legal concept of marriage, I think it is fairer to allow it to more people, but I think a better and fairer solution would be to abolish it altogether.

Firstly, allowing same-sex marriages doesn’t solve the equality problem anyway. Why should only couples be able to get married? Why not groups of three or more people? Why should people only be allowed to enter into one marriage at a time? Why can’t people marry close relatives? I can’t think of a logical answer to any of these.

But the real question is: why is it that in the 21st century, we still have legal recognition of people’s personal relationships? Considered like that, I think it becomes a more clearly absurd idea. And by removing its legal status, this would actually open marriage up more. Any organisation, religious or otherwise, could have their own rules of marriage and recognise whatever sort of marriage they want, without worrying about whether it conforms to the state’s definition. Marriages could have official recognition within churches, for example, but just not any official recognition by the state. Marriages would still exist, but they would now be whatever people want them to be.

Admittedly, it’s not quite that simple. There are certain legal ramifications that come with marriage. People often talk about “rights”, but it’s about changes to your legal situation generally rather than rights per se. There are reasons for getting married, but that’s not the same as saying that there are reasons for legal marriage to exist. For example, some people get married for the security, or for the sake of children should they ever split up. But the fact is that many couples, with or without children, do not get married anyway, so the law needs to be robust enough to deal with any separations, or anything else, effectively and fairly. If it isn’t currently, it needs to be made so.

If one member of a married couple dies, then the surviving member does not have to pay any inheritance tax on their property, so is not at risk of having to sell their house. This is certainly a reason for getting married. But it is not a reason for having marriage as a legal construct. There is no reason in logic or fairness why only married couples should be exempt from this and not other people cohabiting, such as other family members or even friends. For example, elderly sisters Joyce and Sybil Burden have been discriminated against on these grounds and pursued their case for years before ultimately losing.

There is a certain simplicity to marriage in that a whole host of legal things are all put in place when you get married, such as inheritance. But there are other things that you might not be so happy about, such as what happens to your wealth if you split up, or just generally the fact that you have to go through a legal process at all if you split up, even if there is no specific disagreement about what should happen to any possessions or indeed any disagreement about anything at all. This would all be better dealt with by couples making specific agreements on specific issues. There could be more readily available “off-the-shelf” contracts that cover most of what people would normally want. But these would be available for any people, not just those who currently fit the legal requirements for marriage. These contracts would be preferable to marriage because each one would be specifically about one issue and people would know and choose exactly what they were signing, if they wanted to sign anything at all, rather than having a single catch-all legal device that doesn’t specify anything in particular when you enter into it.

We’re also now left with civil partnerships – an extra layer of bureaucracy that is a legacy of a government not wanting to commit to same-sex marriage. This has created further problems because civil partnerships are only available to same-sex couples making them also the subject of equality campaigns. For all the same reasons, I would argue that these, like legal marriage, should be abolished.

To make my point clear, I am not making an argument to people thinking of getting legally married that they shouldn’t do so. While there are benefits, people will continue to get married. I am arguing that we should not have an unfair legal system that benefits couples who choose to have their personal relationship arbitrarily validated by the government. The state does not need to recognise who we form personal relationships with. It’s none of its business.