Private prejudices must be kept out of public roles

An EU commissioner who regards homosexuality as a sin should not be in charge of equal rights

Share
Related Topics

The case of Rocco Buttiglione shows, apart from anything else, how very difficult it is going to be to reconcile the different approaches to governance which the European Union member states have evolved. The emphasis so far has been on the opinions which interestingly prevail in North and South - how utterly fascinating and quaint that some Italians believe that women should be in the kitchen and that homosexuals are going to run on burning sand for eternity. But in reality, it's all about political structures.

The case of Rocco Buttiglione shows, apart from anything else, how very difficult it is going to be to reconcile the different approaches to governance which the European Union member states have evolved. The emphasis so far has been on the opinions which interestingly prevail in North and South - how utterly fascinating and quaint that some Italians believe that women should be in the kitchen and that homosexuals are going to run on burning sand for eternity. But in reality, it's all about political structures.

To recapitulate: Mr Buttiglione, a member of the Italian union of Christian Democrats and Democratic Centre, has been proposed as the European Union's commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs by the incoming president, Jose Manuel Barroso. At the hearing to confirm the appointment, the relevant committee of the parliament asked him,in relation to equal rights, about the question of homosexuality.

Mr Buttiglione said that, as a devout Roman Catholic, he regarded homosexuality as a sin but not a crime. After this, and other remarks about immigration and minority rights, the committee voted against his appointment by a narrow majority. Subsequently, he was reported as saying that "children who don't have a father, but only a mother, are children of a mother who is not very good". Then, perhaps losing the sense of what he was saying, "children who have only a father are not children because a man alone can only produce a robot, not a child".

As soon as outrage began to be expressed at these odd statements, Mr Buttiglione was quick to point out that he hadn't been talking about single mothers, but about the relation between Europe and the United States in metaphorical terms. The point that his metaphor was perhaps in dubious taste, and questionably true, remained unanswered.

Does this not seem like quite a simple question? If, as seems to have been decided, the EU's role with relation to equal rights is to protect and apply them, rather than restrict them, then the commissioner in charge of the subject should not ideally be driven by an agenda that directly conflicts with that policy. An important task over the next few years for anyone concerned with rights for minorities will be to ensure the protection of the gay minority's employment, housing and other rights.

A committed Roman Catholic, who openly regards homosexuality as a sin, cannot with any conscience promote policies that make it easier for homosexuals to live their lives without shame or persecution. National parliaments, and the European Parliament, are going to pursue exactly these policies, under the remit of the new justice commissioner.

We are probably getting to the point where such views as Mr Buttiglione's are just inappropriate in a major public official. Some of his defenders point out that his views reflect the views of a large proportion of the general public, but this surely misses the point. In the first place, there are quite a number of doctrines that are widely held which aren't thought to be acceptable in people in this position. If he admitted to disliking other groups who have been stigmatised by Roman Catholics, nobody would say that a European commissioner is entitled to think whatever a lot of southern Europeans think. It would just be wrong.

And remember, this is an official post, not one of democratic election where someone has been chosen by the electorate to express exactly these views. It is not comparable to, say, the election of a member of the BNP to a local council, where, however deplorable we may find those who voted in such a way, we accept the democratically elected views. It is much more like the choice of an admitted member of the BNP to be the Permanent Secretary of the Home Office. It would not happen, and should not.

At least, it would not in Britain. The fundamental problem is that the European structures don't have a clear distinction between political and official roles, or not one that commands any great confidence. Although Mr Buttiglione stressed that he considered homosexuality a sin, but not a crime, one probably cannot draw the conclusion that he was saying "although that is my private view, for the purposes of the job that will be entirely irrelevant, and I will do my public duty".

No one really doubts that Mr Buttiglione, should he ever be appointed, will bring his political convictions, private though they now ought to become, into his new post. There may be jobs in the commission where such convictions can be irrelevant - there is talk of transport, which sounds acceptable. Though one might not actually want to meet someone like Mr Buttiglione, we have not quite reached the point where his beliefs bar him altogether from public life.

What does seem true is that now, where his beliefs are relevant, they are inappropriate. And the judges of that had better be those who are affected by these policies, not Roman Catholic lives to which they will make absolutely no difference.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband hasn’t ‘suddenly’ become a robust leader. He always was

Steve Richards
 

Costa Rica’s wildlife makes me mourn our paradise lost

Michael McCarthy
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence