Archive | November, 2013

Progression, regression – at least it’s developing?

28 Nov

We wanted to draw attention to a couple of recent events in the struggle for equality. Good news and bad news, but either way it’s good to highlight the wins when they come to give context to any steps back that may happen in other areas. Just keeping on walking.

The beginning of the month saw the European Court of Justice issue a preliminary ruling on an EU Directive relating to minimum standards for the qualification and status of third-country nationals or Stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection. For those unfamiliar with this judicial process, national courts can refer questions of interpretation of EU law that come up in cases brought before them to the ECJ for clarification on the legal rule. The ECJ issues its judgement, which is binding, and then the national courts decide the case before them based on that interpretation. (That’s a very simplified version of the process…) So the ECJ was asked by the courts in the Netherlands a series of questions, including whether foreign nationals with a homosexual orientation form a particular social group for the purposes of the EU Directive in question and as such entitled to protection. The ECJ ruled they did. The Court held “it is common ground that a person’s sexual orientation is a characteristic so fundamental to his identity that he should not be forced to renounce it”. The existence of criminal laws in the countries were the claimants where nationals specifically targeting homosexuals further supported the finding that those persons must be regarded as forming part of a particular social group. The ECJ ruling is obviously not the final step in the process, but as the ECJ’s ruling is binding on all other EU Member States, it could have significant impact on the implementation of these standards across the EU.

At the end of the month, there’s been an important decision on discrimination based on sexual orientation in the UK. For all the news that the UK seems to be winding back to the 17th century in many respects, but particularly in relation to the protection of human rights protection, yesterday’s judgement by the Supreme Court came as somewhat of a relief to those still holding on to modern principles. A couple who ran a small private hotel refused to provide a homosexual couple a double bedroom. The hoteliers hold strong religious beliefs and have a policy that they only provide double bedrooms to “heterosexual married couples”. By an oversight, the guests were not informed of the policy. The majority held that the policy was direct discrimination and, even if it was indirect discrimination, was not justified. It is still within living memory that such acts would not be considered to be discrimination, so quite a fantastic progression in many respects. (Press release here, for those with scarce time.)

Final thing to draw to your attention – the Swedish riksdag (parliament) today signed into law legislation that would prohibit advertising of infant formula and require packets to be labelled indicating that breastfeeding has benefits (among other things). Not all political parties supported the legislation but the reasoning behind it is that it transposes (or incorporates into Swedish law) an EU Directive (2006/141/EC), which does set out these requirements and which EU Member States are therefore bound to incorporate into their domestic legal systems. Whilst this all clearly stems from very important concerns relating to the health interests of children, it does make you wonder whether such a heavy emphasis neglects the pressures faced by women in early motherhood and their genuine right to choose for themselves what’s best for their bodies and their child, rather than have it dictated to them by a government.  Legislating on biological “truths” as some of this has been presented, similar to legislation on historical “truths”, always feels a little uncomfortable. The general conclusion seems to be an overall feeling of discomfort.

Still, a couple of steps forward. Let’s hope we all can keep on walking.

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