The Conservative Critique II: Same Sex Marriage

I’d like to thank Jim Elve for putting my name forward to the Jim Richards Show on NewsTalk 1010 CFRB as a possible “expert” on blogs, and to Jim Richards for being most patient with the interview. I have to say, though, speaking live on the air is scary stuff. I hope I didn’t stumble over my words too often.

If you’re visiting this site from the Jim Richard’s show, welcome. If you’re looking for some sites that I highlighted during my few minutes of fame, check out these links:

  • Blogs Canada - Group commentary from across the board.
  • Blogging Alliance of Non-Partisan Canadians - Blogs from people who don’t like to be tied down to one party.
  • Blogging Tories - The oldest and largest partisan blogroll alliance out there — not affiliated with the federal party.
  • Jay Currie - Fearless opinions from a crochety Libertarian.
  • Sinister Thoughts - Political commentary from an NDPer so savvy, even moderate Conservatives come in for a respectful discussion. From there, visit the Blogging NDP.
  • From A to B - Personal, non-political blogging about flying elephant detectives that solve crime.

A blog I should have mentioned but didn’t: Andrew’s Bound by Gravity. What a moderate Conservative is thinking.

Now… on with what I was originally going to blog about…

So it looks like the final vote on the same sex marriage bill will come down before the House is due to recess on June 23. Hat tip to Greg at Sinister Thoughts for breaking the news to me.

About time, I say. As far as I’m concerned, the bill’s opponents are on the wrong side of history on this one. But more on that later.

What I find most remarkable about the news is the reaction of Liberal MP Pat O’Brien and Conservative MP Vic Toews.

Pat O’Brien (who I really, really hope gets defeated by a New Democrat in the next election — a good chance, from what I’ve heard) is a noted opponent of the same sex bill. With the Liberal mandate precariously balanced, he was able to extract concessions from Paul Martin to slow down passage of this bill in return for not crossing the floor to the Conservatives. Even with Belinda’s defection, the Liberal mandate is still precariously balanced, so you would think that news that Paul Martin is going to fast-track this bill despite Pat O’Brien’s objections could mean the loss of a critical vote and the collapse of the government. However, note these quotes from this National Post article.

Mr. O’Brien criticized Mr. Toews and the Conservatives for so quickly agreeing to a limit on committee hearings, which opened the door to quick passage through Parliament by June 23, the scheduled date for the summer adjournment. Government House leader Tony Valeri said yesterday the government is prepared to have the Commons sit past June 23, however, to get key legislation passed.

“I don’t know why they agreed to it,” said Mr. O’Brien, adding he and other Liberals expect the government to use time allocation for the final stage of debate with the support of the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP. Mr. O’Brien also complained the limited committee hearings do not fulfill a promise to him from Prime Minister Paul Martin that the bill would get a complete airing in committee. Mr. Martin made the promise after Mr. O’Brien threatened to quit the party over the issue.

Mr. Toews reacted angrily to Mr. O’Brien’s suggestion that the Conservatives have not done all they can to stop the bill, criticizing the Liberals who oppose it for not helping the Conservatives.

“They were nowhere to be seen in the entire process,” said Mr. Toews. “They never helped me once. They talked a good fight but never went back to the Prime Minister and indicated how important this was. Where were they? I made the best deal I could and that is, quite frankly, all I can do.”

So, let me get this straight: somehow Paul Martin not only has outfoxed the opponents of the same sex marriage legislation, he’s got them fighting each other?!!?

How does he do that?!

Previous Critique: Urban Affairs.

I have been struggling to understand the Conservative policy towards same-sex marriage. Let me see if I have this straight: the Conservative Party believes that marriage is an institution between one man and one woman. The Conservative Party claims that they are not against homosexuals. As evidence of their respect for homosexual civil rights, they propose recognizing the love of monogamous homosexual couples through same-sex civil unions.

So, under a Conservative government, homosexual couples will have the right to spousal benefits. They will have the right to survivor benefits. They may even have the right to adopt (will they?). A homosexual spouse will not be shooed away from their loved one’s deathbed. In short, the Conservatives are promising homosexual couples all the rights of marriage — just so long as they don’t call it marriage.

So I have to ask: if the Conservatives are willing to offer homosexual couples the rights to marriage in all but name, what’s in the name?

There is no doubt that marriage has a strong religious connotation for many. The Catholics consider the act of marriage itself to be a sacrament — the wedding ceremony alone is enough to absolve good Catholics of their sins, because the Catholic couple is uniting under a sacred union under God. The Protestants disagree (the Anglicans get around this by holding a mass during an Anglican wedding ceremony), but certainly there are many people out there who view marriage as more than just a social contract, and who believe it deserves more respect than, say, Britney Spears gave it that one night in Las Vegas.

But there seems to be as many definitions of marriage out there as there are married couples. I’ve had people tell me that homosexual marriages shouldn’t be recognized because these marriages offered no possibility of procreation. Well, where does that leave barren heterosexual couples? For many others, marriage is about being soulmates, a recognition of a love between two individuals so perfect as to be blessed by God. Children aren’t necessarily a part of that, a fact that Catholics recognize by casually eliminating the vow to “accept children lovingly from God” when the couple being married happen to be in their sixties.

The Catholic Church certainly has the right to dictate what constitutes a marriage… within the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church comes with a set of prescriptions and beliefs that the Catholic community has to accept and which non-Catholics have to acknowledge if they wish to marry into that. The Catholic Church of Omaha was, technically speaking, within its rights to seek to deny me the right to marry Erin within the Church unless I received a Disparity of Cult Dispensation (a Papal dispensation that, in Ontario at least, is usually reserved for a wedding between a Catholic and an unbaptised non-Christian).

But the Catholic right to define the institute of marriage as it is reflected by law ends at the church door. Or, rather, it doesn’t end, per se; it has to compete with other views of marriage offered by other religions, and by people who aren’t religious. Otherwise, we’d end up with the possibility that some fervent Catholic could argue that my love for Erin was somehow invalid or unGodly and revoke my marriage license.

Think that’s unlikely? We’re not too far away from that. In 1895, South Africa attempted to revoke the recognition of Hindu marriages — indeed all marriages performed outside a Christian church — rendering Indian couples illegitimate and their children bastards under the law. Political action led by Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi put a stop to that. Attempts by the Churches to maintain their version of marriage as the basis for Canadian law is an echo of this action. It is an attempt to impose a viewpoint from within the religious community on society as a whole.

I don’t need a religion to tell me whether or not I love my wife; whether or not we are soulmates. And I certainly don’t need a church trying to restrict my legal right to marry Erin simply because I’m not a member of that community. If I were, say, Wiccan, and wanted a Betazoid wedding, I’d still have the right to marry Erin if we were of age and she loved me. The Catholic church would have the right to deny me access to the church for the service, but they would have no right to deny me access to a marriage license and a civil ceremony.

And this is what it comes down to. Propaganda aside, recognizing the legality of same-sex marriage in no way diminishes the sanctity of a marriage conducted wholly within the Church. Religious organizations are in no way obliged to marry individuals who they say do not belong to their religious community. However, because we live in a multicultural society, our Churches are certainly obliged to recognize the legality of marriages conducted outside their Churches, outside Christianity, and outside religion altogether.

I’m married. I’m heterosexual. I’m Christian. As a member of this multicultural society, I have a right to expect that my love for my wife will be recognized with certain legal privileges. This applies to homosexual couples as well. Recognizing the legality of same-sex marriage does not change a Catholic or Hindi definition of marriage, and it is the only right thing to do as a human rights issue. I am not the only Christian to think this. I am not even the most religious Christian to think this (see follow-up article here).

Whether the Conservatives like it or not, their opposition to the Liberals’ same-sex marriage legislation puts them in the same camp as groups of people such as Charles McVety, who seems to believe that there is some vast homosexual conspiracy out there to corrupt his marriage and steal his kids. I cannot understand that fear, and I refuse to be governed by it, and the fact that a Conservative victory would give comfort to these sad individuals makes it extremely difficult to even contemplate voting for them. Short of Stephen Harper finding religion and announcing to Canadians that he was wrong to oppose the legal recognition of same sex marriage, the Conservatives will be on the wrong side of history on this one. Their opposition could well be the one thing that costs them the next election.

The only way out for the Conservatives, short of clamming up once same sex marrage passes, is to suggest that perhaps the federal government is playing with fire by performing marriages outside of the religious sphere. The federal government has an obligation to manage the legal contract aspects of a marriage, but they arguably have no right to comment on the religious specifics of marriage.

Fair enough. But if so, for the Conservatives to maintain a policy that doesn’t impose a legal restriction on a distinct community on the basis of a social judgement, then the only consistent response to the Liberal proposal is to propose that the federal government get out of the business of marriage altogether and give everybody civil unions.

So, that’s your challenge, Conservatives: stop winking at the social conservatives when you say you have nothing against homosexuals, you just don’t think they should have access to the term marriage for their legal ceremonies. Suggest instead the federal government recognizes civil unions and only civil unions, regardless of the sex of the couples. Let civil unions provide the federal basis for managing contract law, the right of inheretance and spousal benefits. And recognize automatically as civil unions all marriages performed by religious organizations.

And here’s the big challenge: recognize automatically as civil unions all religious marriages — including gay marriages performed by, say, the United Church of Canada.

That’s fair, isn’t it? Let the religions decide who has a right to marry within their particular community. And if a religious community accepts the sanctity of same sex marriage, accept that judgement.

Can the Conservatives do that? Can social conservatives do that?

Ignoring the small fact that the first Atheist to come along wanting a secular marriage ceremony and finding himself unable to get it under the law, will claim religious persecution… But I’ll leave that debate for the future.

(Edited to add: I crossposted this post to Blogs Canada’s EGroup and it’s engendered some… interesting discussion. Check out the comments for more)

Next Article: the CBC

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