Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of September 22, 2003
Ottawa plays smoke and mirrors
Marriage cements society, cultures
By BISHOP FRED HENRY
Much has been made of the fact that the draft bill on marriage which has been referred to the Supreme Court of Canada states in its second clause that "Nothing in this act affects the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs."
While the intention is appreciated, the fact remains that freedom of religion is already guaranteed in the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms. The proposed clause adds nothing further.
Nevertheless, throughout his recent express visit to Alberta, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon took great pains to point out in his promotion of gay marriage that no church, mosque, synagogue or temple will be forced to marry gays and lesbians against its will.
One is left to wonder at why the regurgitation of what appears to be self-evident. I suspect that there are only two possible reasons.
Either this safeguard is not as secure as it seems, and given recent surprising court decisions there may be a well-founded fear of judicial activism, or it is intended to defect criticism from so-called religious conservatives. In the latter instance, this might be compared to a burglar breaking into a house guarded by a watchdog and the burglar tosses the dog a bone hoping that the dog's attention will be sufficiently diverted to enable one to pillage the household without interference.
Whatever the case may be, his argument misses the point on why Catholic and other religious leaders are participating in this debate. Clearly, marriage has important religious meaning. But it also has enormous social importance and significance because of its pivotal role in the procreation of children and the nurturing of future generations. Likewise, the anthropological, personal, religious and social dimensions of marriage are deeply rooted in history and culture.
Marriage is a human reality, a natural institution that precedes all social, legal and religious systems. Marriage predates our present government or any other and predates, as well, the founding of the Church. Marriage is not the creature of the state or Church, and neither a government nor the Church has authority to change its nature. This form of life for couples has always been valued and protected as an institution because of its unique character, its way of ordering human relationships, and its procreative potential.
Marriage between a woman and a man constitutes a unique good for all society. It has a fundamental and irreplaceable role in building societies and civilizations. The social value of marriage comes from its role as a stabilizing force for the family, which in turn is the basic unit of society. The conjugal partnership of a man and a woman has always been considered to be the basis of the family, providing a stable and positive environment in which to care for children and so educate future generations.
The results of the 2001 census show that of the 8.4 million families in Canada, 5.9 million (70 per cent) are headed by married couples, 1.3 million (16 per cent) are headed by single parents, 1.2 million (14 per cent) by common-law partners, and 34,200 (0.5 per cent) by same-sex partners. The census also shows that 68 per cent of children ages 0 to 14 live with their married parents, 13 per cent live with common-law parents, and 19 per cent do not live with both parents.
Furthermore, "The proportion of married-couple families was 70 per cent in 2001 . . . . Still, while younger Canadian men and women are more likely to start their conjugal life through a common-law relationship . . . most will eventually marry (roughly 75 per cent) if trends observed in 2001 were to continue" (Statistics Canada, Analysis of the 2001 Census Data, "Profile of Canadian families and households: Diversification continues").
In marriage, what is socially and legally recognized is not only a personal commitment, but also a social commitment: to contribute to the future of society by raising children. It is true that procreation is not the only goal of marriage, but it is certainly a key component.
In the words of Mr. Justice Ian Pitfield: "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."
Invoking the principles of equity, equality, autonomy and freedom of choice, the government in its draft legislation proposes to remove the distinctions between heterosexual spouses and same-sex partners in order to give the latter access to normative marital status. This confuses equality with uniformity by simply substituting one for the other. Non-discrimination does not require uniformity; it requires respect for diversity and differences. Society should value diversity. It is not discriminatory to treat different realities differently.
The House of Commons on June 9, 1999 agreed with the traditional and universal definition of marriage by a vote of 216 to 55. Since then, the Parliament of Canada has reaffirmed the definition of marriage as the legal union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others in the following statutes: The Public Sector Pension Investment Board Act, 1999 (Bill C-78); The Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act, 2000 (Bill C-23); and The Federal Law-Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, 2001 (Bill S-4).
Nevertheless, our federal government has asked the Supreme Court to consider whether its draft bill allowing gay marriage is in keeping with the Charter of Rights. At the same time it is also asking the Supreme Court to reject an appeal of the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling allowing gay marriages brought by religious coalitions because the religious groups were merely intervenors in the Ontario Court of Appeal.
It all kind of makes you wonder what they are smoking on the hill these days, but that's another issue.
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