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Law, Religion and Gender Equality

  • Julian Rivers (a1)

Abstract

This article traces the recent development of gender equality law, understood broadly to embrace sex, transsexual and sexual orientation discrimination. Against this background it considers the ‘problem’ of religion from two perspectives. First, religion is seen as representing a problematic obstacle to the pursuit of a modern gender equality programme, and this results in judicial tendencies to criticise religion and constrain its significance. Second, religions and religious bodies themselves have difficulties with the new ethic underlying recent legal changes. The tension between religious ethics and the new law has resulted in a series of exceptions for religious bodies. However, these are rather narrow, and can be viewed as the minimum necessary to satisfy international and European human rights standards. The article then considers the enigma of equality and the question-begging nature of much of the law made in its name. It concludes that modern problems are better seen not as a clash between religious liberty and gender equality, but as a shift in conceptions of equality. At the same time, this shift has been accompanied by a significant juridification of what for a long time have been social spaces virtually immune from secular legal regulation. Ironically, a new establishment is being created which barely tolerates dissenters.

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