Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of Date, 2003
Marriage = man and woman
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Last Friday, I had the opportunity of talking with a few friends down east about our Bishop's Cup Hockey Game on Family Day. They asked: "What's that all about?" Explaining the hockey game was the easy part. Family Day was a bit more difficult as there is no such holiday in Ontario.
I thought this might be an opportunity to score a few points, so I began: "In the U.S. they have this holiday in February, known as President's Day. In Alberta, we don't have a Premier's Day, nor a Prime Minister's Day, but we have a Family Day, which is much more important."
At this point a lot of positive comments surfaced, and I quickly added, "You're right. It's a great idea, we call it the 'Alberta Advantage!'" I then had to endure a few abusive comments, but the point had already been made. With a smile on my face, I simply sat back and enjoyed their fulminations.
Family Day is a great idea. We all know that family and marriage face many challenges in Canada today: for example, changing sexual mores, easy access to divorce, social acceptance of cohabitation and births outside marriage, economic pressures, and the difficulty of balancing family life and outside work. The most radical challenge, however, is from the gay rights advocates who seek to redefine marriage so that same-sex relationships may be included.
As a result of a series of court challenges that began about 15 years ago, the provincial human rights codes in all the provinces and the Canadian Human Rights Act have been amended to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in the areas of employment; the provision of goods, services or facilities customarily available to the public; and accommodation. These gains were then used to challenge the historical understanding of spouse and obtain health, pension and other benefits available to married and heterosexual common law couples.
Most provinces have now conferred on same-sex partners the same economic benefits and responsibilities as previously reserved to common-law and married couples. The only difference is that common-law and same-sex partners only acquire their rights following a period of cohabitation that varies from province to province. Married couples acquire them upon marriage.
In Canada, the definition of marriage comes under federal jurisdiction, the definition of marriage was overwhelmingly supported in the House of Commons as recently as June 8, 1999, when members passed the following motion by a vote of 216-55: "That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada."
In response to concerns from the public Bill C-23, The Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, was amended in March 2002 to include in the preamble this clause: "For greater certainty, the amendments made by this act do not affect the meaning of the word 'marriage,' that is, the lawful union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."
Family Day affords us the opportunity to remember marriage has anthropological, personal, social and religious dimensions that have deeply entwined roots in our history and culture.
We know that not every married couple has children, that not all children are born in marriages, and that not all marriages lead to stable and nurturing environments for children. We also recognize that, with the help of new technologies and the intervention of a third party of the opposite sex, that same-sex unions can have children. Exceptions, however, do not invalidate but prove the rule; individual practices and choices do not determine the objectives of an institution such as marriage which plays such a pivotal social role. The inherent biological fact remains that a marriage between a man and a woman will usually produce children which no shift in thinking, social trends or technologies can alter.
The government's discussion paper states that some people today think that, because of the growing number of divorces and common-law relationships, the purpose of marriage has evolved from an "instrument of social stability" to "an expression of commitment." While divorce and common-law unions are challenges to marriage and the family, the fact is that the General Social Survey issued by Statistics Canada in July 2002 demonstrates that marriage continues to be the most stable environment in which to raise a family.
While it is true that common-law unions are increasingly popular, the most recent statistics reveal that the vast majority of people will get married. The data also shows the continuing importance of marriage for our society, since common-law unions are generally less stable than marriages and are twice as likely to end in separation as marriages.
There is simply no evidence that can prove that the primary purpose of marriage has evolved. What has evolved is the desire of some same-sex partners to change the definition of marriage in order to have access to the institution. Our concern as a society should be that by changing the definition, the meaning itself of marriage would be changed. The state has a demonstrably genuine justification in affording recognition, preference, and precedence to the nature and character of the core social and legal arrangement by which society endures, that is, marriage.
"We have a Family Day, which is much more important."
- Bishop Fred Henry
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