When the first version of the Equality Act was published in 2016, one of its main promoters was quoted as saying that: “It will be one law to regulate them all; it’s about setting standards across the board,” making any form of discrimination illegal.
So when the revised Act was published a few days ago, the temptation to reference the Lord Of The Rings was just irresistible. Although the publication of the revised Equality Act that lurks in the shadow of the IVF debate has been curiously low-key, in reality it underpins the latter as well as the amendments to the Domestic Violence Law that recently preceded it.
Indeed, the Equality Act can be seen as the Magna Carta of the ‘progressive’ revolution that is at the heart of the social engineering agenda of the Labour government. It deserves much more attention than it is getting at present.
To start off: how fair is it to compare the Equality Act with the wholly evil Ring of Sauron? There is no doubt that at least part of the justification for the draconian legal approach of the Act is the continued daily commission of direct or indirect discriminatory acts that are still normalised in our society.
Discrimination due to disability, political opinion, gender and sexual orientation are still part of what we quaintly call Maltese culture. Just a few days ago the courts found that prison authorities had endangered the lives of some inmates simply because they were transgender.
I have little sympathy for the business people moaning at the cost of implementing equal treatment measures in the workplace. When in 2015 the government decided to actually enforce the two per cent rule of disabled employment that private enterprise had flagrantly ignored for decades, there was a chorus of protests, but there was not a single peep of apology. The number of disabled in employment has since risen significantly.
The rebooted Equality Act has some important developments from the 2015 original. Compliance will now be addressed by an Equality Commissioner who will be chosen by two-thirds of Parliament, giving the post the same level of credibility as the Ombudsman and the Auditor General. The range of acceptable exemptions and qualifications have also been extended, making the Act more sustainable.
With the Equality Act the government has officially thrown away its moral compass, substituting morality for efficiency
But there are other changes. In the 2015 version, one of the first clauses declared that “In all actions concerning children, the best interests of the child shall be the primary consideration”. This has now disappeared. This is consistent with the removal of the protection to the unborn from the amendments in Embryo Protection Act and the Domestic Violence Act.
Another important change is that whereas the 2015 version included family or marital status as one of the protected characteristics, the text now reads “family and, or civil status”. When I asked whether this was intended to specifically allow access to reproductive health services to single persons, the answer was yes.
It seems to me that the 2015 version implied that couples could get IVF treatment irrespective of whether they were married or not, while the 2018 version is dispensing with the requirement for being in a relationship altogether. What happened between 2015 and 2018 to warrant this change?
I was seriously told: “If single persons are rich, want a child, think they are ready for it and do not want to be emotionally entangled with another person, why should they not get it?” Why indeed, except for the little distinction between buying some prosciutto crudo and procuring a child.
And yet the most potentially problematic element of the Equality Act has not changed. Up to now discrimination considerations were criterion referenced. This means that claims of discrimination were measured against accepted standards, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the UN Rights of the Child.
The Equality Act, which supersedes all other legislation, is normed-referenced. This means that generally speaking, behaviour is considered discriminatory simply by virtue of being less than the good or service that other people are enjoying, irrespective of its objective value, worth or consequence.
The Act itself recognises that this sweeping generalisation has limitations, such as with respect to corrective positive discrimination, or with the armed forces and teachers. But by default, I should have whatever you have, and I should be whatever you are.
With the Equality Act the government has officially thrown away its moral compass, substituting morality for efficiency. It is dressing its retreat from the public sphere as the expansion of individual choice.
When you add this fundamental shift in the nature of governance to the removal of the best interests of the child as “the primary consideration” of the Act, you get the homunculoid IVF Bill that the government persists in passing. The Equality Act may be rooted in good intentions, but part of its fruits will pave the way to inequality for the most vulnerable, and to social sterility.
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