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January 29, 2007



I think we one can probably be too dogmatic about these things in the pursuit of consistency.

Dave Hill

Yes. But isn't saying that a bit of a cop out too?


I have no problem allowing Catholic adoption agencies to discrimminate against gay couples on Sunday afternoons.



I s'ppose one is such a minor matter that we can let it slip beneath the radar whereas the other is too significant to let past.

Dave Hill

Hi Robert. You can go off people, you know...!

Molasses: Maybe the comparison isn't quite exact either, though exactly how is quite hard to explain.


If taxes pay for it then no discrimination should be allowed. If, say , a private club hired the pool for a Sunday, they could invite or not invite whomever they wished. If the church is taking tax dollars, they have no right to discriminate.

Jonathan Derbyshire

It’s a good question and an infernally difficult one to answer. I think we can all see that the consistent answer would be that you should object in the second case, as well as the first – because the same principle is at stake. Yet, intuitively, it doesn’t feel as if it’s the same principle. I suppose the question is whether Catholics could say they’re laying claim to the same right of religious association (or whatever) that the Orthodox Jews are when they ask to be given the municipal baths to themselves on a Sunday. If they are, then we’d need an argument for whey we’re inclined to deny the putative right in one case but not the other.


I object to Jewish swimming days, and Muslim swimming days, and catholic swimming days, and lesbian swimming days....


Yes, as the baths are publicly funded, I think you should. By reserving the baths to one particular group for a weekend afternoon, many others are unable to use a facility they pay for, at one of the times that would suit them best. If any group wishes to reserve a public facility to themselves for any period of time, I think they should have to pay full hire charges, which should then be passed on to other users in the form of improved facilities or lower charges.

The flaw in this (if not the argument) is, of course, that the Orthodox Jews would not, for religious reasons, be able to use the baths. But to let them do so, at the expense of others (both in terms of money and convenience), is surely the more objectionable situation?

Ms Baroque

No. First of all you don't use the municipal baths ALL the time, whereas adoption is forever.

Second, the municipal pool also closes off at times to allow women-only, lessons-only, elderly-only, etc. These are all "special interest" groups, as it were. You're only worrying about the Orthodox Jews because they're a Religion, and as such they set off all the alarm bells. But it's the alarm bells that are new, nothing else.

Dave Hill

Thanks for all your comments.

Jonathan's indicates how finely tuned a response allowing me to say no to Catholics on adoption exemptions and yes to a special interest swimming session would have to be. But, of course, the main issue here is whether any group, religious or otherwise, should have more rights than another.

For me, the beauty of Kris's and Quink's position is its simplicity and, at the level of rights, its fairness - you're treating everyone the same. On the other hand, if you were to take the principle to its logical conclusion with regard to state or local authority funding, wouldn't you also have to withdraw tax support from all faith schools and so on? As an ideal I can see the attractions (even though I'm no Dawkins on religion) but would it really benefit society in reality?

MsB: I think your distinction between adoption being forever and special interest provision of swimming pools being for an hour or so a week is important. But the consistency and definition problems re. special interest groups - if they are problems - remain. i.e. why should one group's "special interest" take precedence over everyone else's. even if it is only for a short time once a week? Also, what and who defines a special interest group in the first place?

I'm enjoying this! More please!


It isn't restricted to orthodox Jews. It's a single sex swimming time. So it offers opportunities to various groups, who also pay for the facilities through their council taxes, who would otherwise be excluded by mixed swimming only setups. These could include strictly observant Muslims, radical feminists and others who feel they cannot be in a mixed sex swimming environment. The majority who enjoy mixed sex facilities get those for the great majority of the time they are open.

Peter Briffa

As the lovely Harriet Harman explains, "You can either be against discrimination or you can allow for it. You can't be a little bit against discrimination."


Which is why I'm in favour of it. But hey, live by the sword, die by the sword.

Political Umpire

Sorry Dave, you can't have it both ways.

Everyone pays the same rates/council tax. Therefore everyone has the same rights to use council facilities. End of story. If the Orthodox Jews want to build their own swimming pool for their own purposes, then fine. Except of course on the Labour party's agenda it would not be fine, since they'd be offering goods and services to the public but discriminating on religious grounds (rather like the B&Bs that seek to exclude gays, as other B&Bs used to exclude Irish and Blacks).

It comes back to what I said a couple of days ago about respect for the right to hold beliefs (which everyone should have) and respect for those beliefs themselves (not the same thing). Or to put it another way: the Jews (and everyone else) have the right to their beliefs, but they don't have the right to expect the rest of us to pay for them.

The question of scale often confuses people: "it's only one day, what does it matter". But once you allow that sort of concession, where does it begin and end? I think we have to try and be principled, and consistent, with regard to discrimination.

Ms B thinks that we shouldn't trouble ourselves because we are concerned with a 'religion'. But answer this: suppose a revival of the Dutch Reform Church wished to exclude coloured people on Sundays (or any other days, or just to have an hour's whites-only time a week). Any takers? Thought not.

I think it is compelling that we insist that those seeking public funds do not discriminate on objectionable grounds (race, religion, skin colour, sexual orientation). The tricky area is how much discrimination do we allow in the private sphere, but that doesn't arise here in the case of your municipal pool.

Political Umpire

Dave also asks, quite rightly: "On the other hand, if you were to take the principle to its logical conclusion with regard to state or local authority funding, wouldn't you also have to withdraw tax support from all faith schools and so on? As an ideal I can see the attractions (even though I'm no Dawkins on religion) but would it really benefit society in reality?"

Don't know until you try ... But yes, it does require that. I acknowledge (through very reliable first hand testimony I've received) that often children at religious schools are better behaved than at state schools. But I don't believe that religion is necessary for ethics, or that the better results of the religious schools somehow derive from the religious aspects. Anyway, if you had a whites-only school that was performing better than multicultural schools, few would be arguing for its retention.


The glib answer is that one really matters and the other is a bit annoying if you can't use the local pool when you want to. There are other pools, after all.

But the deeper point, which I suspect is what troubles Dave, is that while people have the right to self segregate there is no reason for everyone else to cheer them on for doing it. Nor pick up the tab for that.

Tom Freeman

Do Catholics have the right to run adoption agencies? Put that simply, yes. Do they have reason that they are unable to deal with gay couples as potential adoptive parents? Yes. Do gay couples have the right to be considered on their own merits as potential adoptive parents? Yes. So something has to give.

Is considering the widest possible range of adoptive parents – on their own merits – the best way to ensure the interests of children needing adoption? Yes, and that has to be the priority. So I think what has to give here is that if somebody really is unable to do this, then they can’t run an adoption agency.

Do Orthodox Jews have a legitimate right to use public swimming pools? Yes. Do they have reason that they are unable to exercise this right without the pools’ management privileging them (i.e. by offering exclusive sessions)? Yes. Is this a good enough reason for the management to offer such sessions at the taxpayer’s expense? Hmmm.

In the case of, say, women-only sessions I think that the reason for exclusive sessions is much stronger. But I’m afraid I can’t quite put my finger on what does and doesn’t amount to a good enough reason for making special treatment fair treatment. What about individual sessions for social phobics?


Sorry for my earlier flippancy, Dave.

I find it difficult to engage with this issue because I cannot get past the idea that the Churches are being disingenuous here. Their teachings, traditions and 'conscience' are also against unmarried couples... and yet they have no problem with allowing unmarried heterosexuals to adopt. This is a preposterously hypocritical stance, which has very little to do with actual faith, and even less to do with any infringement of their rights as a group.

No, these people have a conscience issue AS INDIVIDUALS, and they are hiding behind the religion in order to gain unequal treatment before the law. They should be treated like all the homophobic atheists out there - told to lump it! The law is designed precisely to hinder those whose conscience leads them in a bigoted direction that we, as a society, have finally deemed unacceptable.

As with all instances where the law clashes with conscience, they must then choose whether to grudgingly accept it, or break the law. In a way, we should respect them whatever they decide to do... and my guess is that when they see the smiles on the faces to the two people who love each other, two soon-to-be-adoptive parents... they will hold their views a little less strongly.


Don't get me started on the pool! I once went to "women only" swimming in the people's republic of haringey. Ahhh, a chance to swim without the school kids and over-aged and weight Ian Thorpe wannabes. Was it just ladies and civilised swimmming?! Silly me! I asked what the deal was and was sniffily told by the stalinista behind the counter that, "it is a woman's right to have her children with her"....(major eye roll).

The LB Hackney or any other inner London borough cannot possibly cater to every special interest group, whether religion, sexuality (hey, they have gay men's day at a Camden pool!).

It is a MUNICIPAL pool! I say deal with learning to swim with the rest of the great unwashed or join a gay gym (which I have as a matter of fact-it is heaven on earth being the only woman in the locker room!) I digress..

Or start a Jewish Community Centre like they have in the states with MUCH better facilities than I have seen anywhere else. They let shiskas in if you play by their rules. Which is fair enough as it is their pool.

The trouble is, these local authorities try to be all things to all people and they should wake up to the fact they they are not property developers, sports facilities managers etc and stick to governing. Then, with the council tax they can no longer piss against the wall, I can pay for a membership to a pool I could actually use!

I know you are all thinking, "Hello, ISSUES"- don't worry, I will discuss it further with my NHS counsellor! x

Dave Hill

Righto. Here's what Stephen Pollard says:


Carry on!


A swimming pool is a finite resource.

A license for an adoption agency is not a finite resource if others can obtain such licenses.

So it appears the comparison is being made between apples and oranges.

A better question might be whether it is proper to offer licenses to any organization that services a specific group determined by religion, gender, race or any other suspect classification.

If it is not proper, then such licenses must be prohibited to any organization wishing to make such discriminations.

Are there any adoption agencies that specialize in single sex parent adoptions?

What should be done with regard to a license for such an agency?


I swim in East London, where a new trend seems to be emerging among some lads of Islamic faith: swimming in bodysuits.

It neither hurts my pocket nor interferes with my swimming times. So
why have I even given it a second thought? I've never got the guts up to courteously ask these lads what it's all about. Maybe I should.

Jane Henry

Really interesting debate and question, Dave. Have to fess up here to being that much maligned beastie, a catholic, though not a very strict one. I can really understand where the church is coming from, though I don't agree with their stance, and also agree with whoever it was who said that if they are allowing unmarried heterosexual couples to adopt they don't have a leg to stand on. That aside, I can see if there is a genuine principle involved, it is going to be tricky for a catholic adoption agency to follow the law, whether they've been told to or not.

My personal view is that the child should always always come first. So much research seems to show that children do badly in care that this seems a no brainer to me. If two people of whatever colour, creed or sexual persuasion can provide a child in need with a loving secure family home that is all that matters. Period.

I do think this whole issue, has been blown out of all proportion though. If you were a gay couple planning to adopt, would you REALLY be going to a catholic adoption agency? I don't think so. And by all accounts the catholic adoption agencies seem to be doing a very good job, so it seems tragic if some of them end up foundering over this. I think both the government and the catholic bishops are at fault for having been so entrenched in their positions.

Most (not all, I do appreciate that) catholic priests/nuns I know have strong principles about their faith but live enough in the real world to be pragmatic. I cannot imagine many who work in an adoption agency actually letting a child back into care rather then giving them a good home.

As to your question Dave, I think you have to agree to the same principle for the Orthodox Jews. The pool is a public place, they don't have any more right to it then anyone else (unless every minority group gets a turn, in which case, it might be difficult for the greater part of the public to get a swim in!),so they shouldn't get special privileges.

I also have a question of my own. If there is a choice between a gay couple and a heterosexual couple adopting a child, and the heterosexual couple gets it, will that count as discrimination, or vice versa? What does anyone think?

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