I’ve got some links about this queued up in the link blog, but it seemed worth a proper post as well as the silly one about frogs.
What the Court really said
So, what happened in the recent case of Owen and Eunice Johns is that both sides (the Johns and Derby Council) asked the court for a ruling on an abstract point. Contrary to what you’ve read in the press about a “ban” on Christians fostering, Derby Council hadn’t decided that they couldn’t be foster parents, so the Johns were not seeking to overturn a decision, merely to establish a principle. (It’s also worth mentioning that many Christians do not have bigoted views on homosexuality, and so talk of a ban on “Christians” is too broad).
The full text of the judgement should be required reading for anyone tempted to spout off about the case. It’s a bit long, but there are moments of light relief, such as when the Court rounds on the Johns’ barrister, Paul Diamond, who was funded by the infamous Christian Legal Centre:
In his skeleton argument and in his oral submissions, Mr Diamond lays much emphasis upon various arguments, many of them couched in extravagant rhetoric, which, to speak plainly, are for the greater part, in our judgment, simply wrong as to the factual premises on which they are based and at best tendentious in their analysis of the issues.
The Court makes reference to previous cases of anti-gay Christians seeking legal relief, such as the Gary McFarlane case, in which the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, intervened. The judges consider the previous judgements both correct and binding on them. As such, at the end of the case, they don’t grant either side what they’re asking for, and it’s still up to the council to make their decision.
Old time religion
The courts are clear, both in this judgement and previous ones, that they are not ruling that anti-gay Christians are bigots: that’s my language, not theirs. For my part, I have Christian friends who probably share some of the Johns’ views. I think the best analogy I can find to that is the way much-loved elderly relatives sometimes start going on about “darkies” and immigrants and whatnot: it’s obviously nasty, but you feel more embarrassed for the relatives than worried about the effect on black or Asian people. Usually, it’s easier just to stay off the topic. (Edit: I elaborate on this analogy in discussion with tifferrobinson on an old post, here). However, when that sort of thing comes from the mouths of people paid to act for the State, I don’t think it can be allowed to stand.
A couple of Christian commentators have distinguished themselves by writing sensible stuff on this most recent court case: I commend to you Christian journalist Gavin Drake, who sounds even more annoyed with the CLC than me (perhaps because they’re letting the side down); and Peter Ould (who I remember from my uk.religion.christian days).
At the end of his piece, Ould goes into the consequences for bigoted Christians: their continued attempts to make hay in the courts are failing, and he suggests that they should switch tactics, and instead look to the legislature, though I have to say that I don’t expect them to do particularly well there, either: the Lib-Dems are liberal, and Cameron has been careful to disassociate himself from the crazy anti-gay right in his party.
Ould also points out the oddity of a monarch sworn to uphold the laws of God and a judiciary who no longer think that Christianity has a special place in UK law. I can’t help but agree: disestablishment would now seem to be unfinished business, and I’d be in favour of it. It’d get the bishops out of the House of Lords, and maybe it’d stop bigoted Christians from wasting the courts’ time with these fruitless lawsuits.
Edited: Bishop Alan Wilson also has some useful thoughts on the matter.