Moving along the emancipation sequence

By Lorenzo

Christina Odone, former deputy editor of The New Statesman, in the course of arguing that religious believers are being pushed out of public life by a new intolerance, drew attention to the Law Society revoking permission for a conference on traditional marriage to be held on its premises.

Suppose it had been a conference on the need to reinstate traditional legal prohibitions on Jews. Or Catholics. Would it then have been unreasonable for the Law Society to say that you can not hold such a conference on our premises?

Suppose it was a conference on the need to revoke voting rights for women? Or re-impose coverture marriage?  (Which was, after all, for centuries the “traditional” form of marriage under English law.) For what group does opposition to equal protection of the law become an acceptable conference subject matter for the Law Society to provide a venue for? Would Ms Odone care to specify?

What used to be called the Old Commonwealth countries — UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand (we can leave aside South Africa as a different case) — have been moving along the Emancipation Sequence: abolishing the slave trade, then slavery, then Catholic emancipation, then Jewish emancipation, female emancipation (in its various waves), now queer emancipation. “Emancipation” being used here to mean more than just the right to vote but to enjoy the equal protection of the law in the widest sense. One can tell how far along the Emancipation Sequence we are by how much, and in what spheres, equal protection of the law is taken as effectively a settled issue.

It is for Jews and Catholics, it mostly is for women and it is still somewhat contested for queers but is clearly heading in that direction.


Almost certainly, it does not occur to Ms Odone that there is any parallel with coverture marriage, or the controversy over Jewish emancipation, etc. But, of course, that is precisely what is going on.  Indeed, the fight over queer emancipation is almost completely a re-run of the fight over Jewish emancipation, with exactly the same arguments being run — they are offensive to God, giving them legal equality goes against the authority of Scripture and Western tradition, they will corrupt any institution they are allowed into, they prey on minors, they are predatory recruiters, they spread disease — and almost exactly the same fault lines showing up in social debate.

The Catholic Church, in particular, is behaving in exactly the same role; keen to foster as much persecution of a vulnerable minority as it can get away with to display its credentials as gatekeeper of righteousness. With said vulnerable minority being a useful scapegoat for the stresses of modernity.


The parallel is even stronger, given how much of the Emancipation Sequence was about de-Christianising the law. Hence equal marriage is, indeed, a rejection of traditional Christian teachings and authority. But so was giving equal rights for Jews. Or, for that matter, much of the process of providing equal protection of the law for women. Particularly the fight over giving women control over their fertility, which the traditional Christian package of no contraception, no abortion, no divorce and no rape within marriage almost entirely stripped women of.

The role of gatekeeper of righteousness is deeply entwined with outcasting and moral exclusion. As the legal support of moral exclusion unravels, that entails the unravelling of legal support for traditional religious social gatekeeping.

Ms Odone wants to defend the advocacy of moral exclusion; of moral exclusion extending to denial of equal protection of the law. Moral exclusion always involves an impoverished epistemology, since it denies the experience and perspective of the excluded any standing.

The Law Society has decided that queer folk are full humans, entitled to equal protection of the law. Ms Odone wants the right to use other people’s property to publicly advocate that that, really, they are not full and proper versions of the human and so not entitled to equal protection of the law. (For if queer folk are full and proper manifestations of the human, then equal protection of the law just follows.)

At the heart of the Emancipation Sequence is the dictum of Terence:

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me).

The Rabbinical tradition was that the cities of the plain were destroyed for breaching the principle enunciated in Exodus 22: 21-27 of protecting the outsider and the vulnerable. That they were not merely immoral, but anti-moral, punishing those who helped the vulnerable. (The notion of their sin being of hostility to the outsider — and specifically the messengers of God — is the usage Jesus invoked, in his preaching.)

Moral exclusion, by contrast, declares that which is different to be alien, to be not fit for full membership of the moral community or equal protection of the law. Hence Philo of Alexandria‘s adoption of natural law reasoning to re-target the wrath of God in Genesis 19 against the vulnerable queer minority. Using the rhetoric of Athens in the name of Jerusalem to fight the Jewish-Greek kulturkampf which was such a feature of the Hellenistic East from the time of Alexander the Great onwards, and which was particularly intense in Alexander’s most important eponymous city. Philo was being a good Jewish cultural warrior, contrasting Jewish “according to nature” sexuality and strict gender divisions against vile, flagrant pagan Greek “against nature” sexuality and gender fluidity.

The term “traditional” is so often a way of hiding from history, rather than understanding and learning from it.

In a sense we are seeing the return to past debates, of the return of things deliberately written out of the history that “counted”. One can discern a pattern familiar from present clashes when Philo writes:

At all events one may see men-women continually strutting through the market place at midday, and leading the processions in festivals; and, impious men as they are, having received by lot the charge of the temple, and beginning the sacred and initiating rites, and concerned even in the holy mysteries of Ceres. And some of these persons have even carried their admiration of these delicate pleasures of youth so far that they have desired wholly to change their condition for that of women, and have castrated themselves and have clothed themselves in purple robes, like those who, having been the cause of great blessings to their native land, walk about attended by body-guards, pushing down every one whom they meet.

Officially fun

Parading pride

The Sydney Mardi Gras and other Pride Marches invoke the great pagan festivals and street parades, just as Philo is the archetypal monotheist denouncer of the same. These culture wars are millennia old.

Ms Odone is on the losing side of the Emancipation Sequence. But, of course, she would have to see queer folk as full people with fully legitimate aspirations whose experiences count to see that. Which she doesn’t, so she doesn’t. Thereby manifesting the impoverished epistemology inherent in moral exclusion.

The irony is that advocates of moral exclusion always believe they see more than their opponents, not less. For they see what a threat to moral and social order the excluded group “really” is.

As was said at every stage by opponents of the Emancipation Sequence. How do such claims look now?

Officially pagan

Pagan dates

The Emancipation Sequence has been about expanding social possibilities for previously legally restricted classes of people. Moral exclusion is about narrowing social possibilities, and narrowing them for other people. Based on understanding what a threat to order they “really” are. One suspects that sense of superior understanding and moral purpose is part of the appeal.

Ms Odone claims that traditional religious believers are being subject to moral exclusion, to having their social possibilities narrowed. And she takes her stand on the right of religious believers to seek to block the expanding of social possibilities for others.

Clearly, the irony is entirely lost on her. But that is, of course, the problem of moral exclusion. Once you set the game in motion, you have no control over where it will end up. Perhaps a game not to play, then?

It was, after all, the Jews who taught the Christians to pick on queers and to pick on pagans. And the Christians who taught the Muslims to pick on the Jews. How did that work out for them?

On the wider point that moral exclusion is not a game to play, Ms Odone is entirely correct. But that is not where she wants to make her stand, thereby demonstrating that she misses the point rather more thoroughly than those she is complaining about.


  1. Nick Ferrett
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Lorenzo, this doesn’t stack up for me. I think there have to be choices morally to exclude classes of people in an ordered society. It is a question of what moral classifications matter. There are classes of human behaviour which I regard as alien and whose practitioners ought to be excluded. The one which comes most easily to mind is paedophilia.

    The punishment and exclusion of paedophiles is a moral choice, and one made despite the increasing evidence that paedophilia is compulsive behaviour.

    I pause at this point to say that I do not equate paedophilia either morally or actually with homosexuality. If you ask around, you would find that I am a supporter of gay rights.

    For me, immorality arises from unreasonable interference in someone else’s choices and from indifference to another’s suffering. In my view a code based on those moral foundations is reasonable. The first of them, inter alia, condemns paedophilia because it takes away from as-yet incompetent children the opportunity to make their own choices, when they are old enough to do so, about sex. Rape is to be condemned on that basis as well. So is murder.

  2. amie
    Posted January 29, 2014 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    I have no quarrel with your argument, save to point out the Law Society’s inconsistent and prima facie hypocrisy with regard to their letting policy:
    Their response to objections to their letting their premises to, and thus lending respectability to, the travesty posing as a bona fie legal tribunal which was the Russel Tribunal was that their policy is totally non judgmental, hands off and strictly commercial:
    ” The Society has appointed agents to manage the lettings of our facilities and the provision of related services. In participating in this open market we have set a policy of treating all potential hirers in an equal and consistent way.

    We require potential hirers to act in a lawful way in the hiring of facilities.

    We make no value judgments on proposed uses by those hiring the rooms, with the obvious proviso that the intended uses and users are lawful. ”

  3. Brian
    Posted January 30, 2014 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    “And the Christians who taught the Muslims to pick on the Jews.” <- Abolutely false.

    Mohammed approached the council of rabbis seeking recognition as a prophet. He was, shall we say, rebuffed. After that, he took special aim at Jews in word and deed. At Khaybar, he directed the attack on a town simply because they would not recognize him. He killed some 800 men afterward for the crime of fighting against his force. This was definitely not the cultural expectation of his time. He gave direction to build a fire on the chest of the town treasurer to get him to reveal where the loot was. He urged his men to rape the women, which was also not the cultural expectation of his time.

    This incident formed the religious justification for the Ottoman's form of warfare that punished resistance with killing of all males between 15 and 45 after defeat. The last massacre of this kind happened in Belgrade circa 1906.

    Later tolerance for Jewry within the Muslim empires was not based on scripture, but economics, particularly after the expansion of the empires was halted. If the empire is not expanding, then it must levy taxes, and within Islamic law, only non-Muslims pay taxes. (Jizya, or head tax).

    Jews were unwilling to convert, despite long oppression, and very industrious. So, after a while the sultans and caliphs realized that Jews were valuable sources of revenue, whereas Muslims were not. This provided the incentive to quietly help Jews to get merchant opportunities and grow their businesses, because a Jewish success meant money for the treasury. If that resulted in deflecting anger at the Sultan onto Jews, all the better.

    Similarly, since Jews were prohibited from ruling over Muslims, Jews could not dream of becoming sultan or caliph. But Muslims could, and Mohammed left no directions for succession. Lack of rules for succession meant that coup was (and remains) the system of succession and establishment of rulers.

    For this reason there were incidents (totally against Sharia) of Jews becoming Generals and high ranking military officers. A Jewish general was safe for the Sultan. A Muslim general was not.

    Circling back to Mohammed and the Jews, anyone who examines Quran, Ha'dith and Sira sees very clearly that Muslim anti-Jewish sentiment originated with Mohammed, and from no other source. That infamous quote about the rocks calling out that there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him is only part of it.

  4. Posted January 30, 2014 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    [email protected] This is a definitional point. Yes, of course, maintenance of a moral order requires that immoral behaviour suffers consequences.

    Moral exclusion is something different; it is stripping people unilaterally of moral protections. Of saying they are either not members of the moral order or are not full members.

    The clue was when you were forced to say “I am not equating paedophilia with homosexuality”. Rejection of the former says the experience of abused children counts. Rejecting the latter says the experience (indeed, the existence) of homosexuals does not count.

    [email protected] Yes, the Law Society needs to amend its hiring policy.

    [email protected] My wording was not what it could have been. Yes, Muhammad’s antipathy to the Jews arises out of their rejection of his Prophetic mission and their interactions in Medina. (BTW Luther’s Jew-hatred was also based on their rejection of his claim to have “completed” their religion.)

    But the legal restrictions on dhimmis were very clearly based on the Eastern Roman Empire’s legal restrictions on Jews.

  5. Nick Ferrett
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Lorenzo, I’ve misapprehended what you meant by “moral exclusion”. It makes more sense now, although I wonder whether there might be a better term for it?

  6. Posted January 31, 2014 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] Well and truly up for suggestions.

  7. Nick Ferrett
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Arbitrary exclusion?

  8. Nick Ferrett
    Posted January 31, 2014 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    BTW, the point about coverture marriage is a killer.

  9. kvd
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I always find Lorenzo’s postings interesting, and I was taken by his capitalised ‘Emancipation Sequence’ – so I googled it, but got nothing much more than Lorenzo’s own post. So – attractively simple as this term is – I wondered who might else be elsewhere considered in need of ’emancipation’ – which, as Lorenzo seems to term it, means societal equality?

    There’s a group called “Law and Justice Foundation of NSW” who’ve already done some such analysis regarding access to justice (which I accept is a subset). I was taken with their attempt at a list of those groups considered to be disadvantaged in our society (as regards law, access thereto):

    :disabled – intellectual, physical, sensory, psychiatric, acquired
    :cultural or linguistic
    :young people, old people, remote locations, disadvantaged urbans
    :education – particularly literacy
    :institutionalised – incl. prisoners, nursing homes, immigration detainment centres

    (My summary won’t look neat, so go here for their report)

    My point is that Lorenzo’s ‘Emancipation Sequence’, while understandable and attractive, leaves quite a few other ‘sub-identities’ of the human race sort of swinging in the wind. I am wondering if this sequence is suggested as some sort of overriding order – but then where do the many other groups noted above ‘fit’ within this simple sequence? Or does that not matter for the present discussion?

  10. Nick Ferrett
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    kvd, I think there’s a distinction to be drawn between substantive characteristics which prevent a person from fully participating in society and characteristics which are arbitrarily labelled as a reason to preclude someone from participation. The intellectually disabled have difficulty participating because of that characteristic, whereas lgbt(i?) have trouble participating because other people have decided that they shouldn’t be allowed fully to participate.

    I don’t think you can treat people in the former group as waiting for extension of a franchise so much as waiting for greater compassion to be directed toward them.

    As for Lorenzo’s “emancipation sequence”, I didn’t understand him to be defining a closed set of classes emancipated, or on their way to it. He was just tracking where various classes were on the road to emancipation.

  11. kvd
    Posted February 1, 2014 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

    Yes Nick, I accept your point. Except I think there are also well documented historical abuses of some of those classes: old people left out to die, the young sacrificed to ‘prolong’ the life of their elders – or to be abused by same, the insane treated as posessed, the handicapped left to fend for themselves or killed, indigenes dispossessed, people forced to take liberal arts degrees 😉 etc. and so on.

    Lorenzo’s point remains that this ‘exclusion’ or discrimination is based upon the perversion of what should be basic moral laws to which we are all subject. I am simply querying why there is such a ‘bright line’ now called ‘Emancipation Sequence’ which makes no mention of these other potentially equally disadvantaged ‘groups’? Do they come next, or do they not matter because their ‘disadvantage’ can be qualified as somehow less important, less remediable?

  12. Posted February 6, 2014 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    [email protected] Bigotry is always a moral claim and always based on a theory, so it is not “arbitrary” as such.

    [email protected] Ta. It is remarkable how little sense of history defenders of the “traditional” often have.

    [email protected] I am more focused on use of law to explicitly exclude based on moral claims rather than wider problems.

    [email protected] What you said 🙂

    [email protected] I doubt we will ever reach a “no more to do” point.

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