Home > Irish politics, Politics > A right to discriminate

A right to discriminate

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Portmarnock Golf Club was entitled to exclude women from full membership (I covered this on Facebook, still not in the habit of posting such things here). I would agree with their decision in this case, based on the idea that individuals have the freedom to associate with others on the terms they decide for themselves. I’m not saying that this is an absolute right in all cases, particularly that there could be discrimination on the basis of race that should at times be prevented.

(Having said that, while it cost them money in the courts, and anything that hurts them is a good thing, I see little sense either in forcing the British National Party to allow membership to those who aren’t white. They very clearly are a racist party, I can think of no reason someone who wasn’t white would wish to join, and allowing them to be explicit about it had the benefit of discouraging votes from them.)

This is a different case to whether sex discrimination should be allowed in matters of employment. It is easy to conflate issues because of the broad similarity of what is involved, and the common principles, but because there are no economic structures, the principles are subtly different. In this case it is simply a matter of the freedom of association, that in a free society any group of people may come together to decide how they want to organize.

There are any number of ladies’ clubs around the country, which no one objects to. They may not bother stating explicitly in their rules that their membership is exclusively for women, but it is understood to be so. For whatever reason, men and women often like to associate without the other. Some women might like to chat at their book club, while men might like there to be only other men while chatting in the members’ bar in Portmarnock. Perhaps a ladies’ sports gym would have been a better example, as men and women respectively often like to be with their own before and after sports. Not all do, of course. I have little interest in sport myself, and in general, prefer mixed groups. And in any case, I hope never to middle-aged enough to wish to join a golf club.

The bigger perspective really is where does what is known as the equality agenda end. As far as I’m concerned, the state should tackle discrimination in as far as it is directly responsible for the employment or association. However people wish to organize socially should be their affairs. What those on the left of this and related issues forget is where we’ve come from, and what they historically fought against. In years gone by, conservatives sought to mould society in a particular image, and interfered with matters that should have been the private domain, controlling the interactions between individuals. This is now what those who wish to force social clubs to open their membership are trying to achieve in reverse. Until all units of society are tolerant and diverse, at least in principle, they don’t seem to be happy. Except, that is, that they won’t tolerate those who have no wish for diversity.

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  1. 12 January, 2010 at 10:25 pm

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