Saturday, May 20, 2006

It's not that simple

A little while back we abandoned a post half-way through in which we were trying to say something about the feud between Andrew Sullivan and most of the staff at the National Review, especially Ramesh Ponnuru. We were trying to find a way to work the Ruth Kelly situation into it, but couldn't think what the argument was actually going to be. So we gave up. But now, Sullivan takes up that exact issue:

a follower of Opus Dei, Ruth Kelly, is now the Equality Minister in the Blair cabinet, bringing calls for removal from some gay groups. I think those groups are mistaken. Kelly has every right to her religious faith; and she has also publicly insisted that as a public servant, her first loyalty is to uphold the laws as they stand. That's exactly the right position; and exactly the right distinction between faith and politics. The gay groups should lay off.

The row generated a lively debate in the letters pages of the Times of London last week; Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster, wrote to the paper in support of her:

Homosexual people are first of all persons, and have the same entitlement to legal rights as anyone else. The Church has consistently spoken out against any discrimination against homosexual persons, and will continue to do so.

but this triggered many critical responses a couple of days later, noting in essence the Church's doctrinal discrimination against gay people, and the possibility that civil equality and church doctrine are moving in opposite directions regarding gay people, most notably for marriage. Things got more difficult for the Cardinal when it was revealed that he had sacked an openly gay aide; the spin was that the sacking was a result of the aide making clear that he was actively homosexual, which was deemed to cross a line. But the case, embodying as it does a tradeoff between discrimination and religious belief, is a classic "what-if" stumper for someone in Kelly's position. [another one perhaps being what culture-of-life issues might arise if Ruth had to evaluate her grandfather's membership in the IRA].

In fact we remember now why we abandoned the earlier post, because we're still not sure what the point is. But perhaps it's to note Sully's oddly glib "resolution" of Ruth Kelly's conundrum, when it presents exactly the complexities of a politicised church that he is feuding with the NR'ers about [note in particular his entirely correct lambasting of the defenders of Father Maciel; scroll down for his posts about Neuhaus]. It's even odder that he specifically wants gay rights group to pipe down in this case. There's an old Tory hiding in there somewhere.

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