I’ve thought about this issue, in much depth, and I’ve considered both positions and have wavered between them as the issue has been debated before Parliament and before much of this country in the many coffee shops and by the many water coolers from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
Bill C-38 (the Civil Marriage Act) is to be voted upon in Parliament tomorrow and I wanted to express my views on this bill before it faces the votes cast by the Members of Parliament.
I am in favour of bill C-38 as it is currently written (I hope that even if you disagree, that you will continue to read this post)
The title of the bill is:
An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes
“Marriage” in my opinion, was erroneously written into the law of the land to confer benefits and rights to those in such a partnership. Marriage is a cultural institution that originated before Canada existed. To write it into the law and to manipulate it, goes beyond the jurisdiction of the government, or of any organization. “Marriage” cannot be defined wholly by either the Roman Catholic church (ie. Muslims get married too, and are not bound to the definition of the RC church), or by the Canadian government. “Marriage” is, and always shall be a cultural institution no matter what organized group of people (whether your friends, or the government of Canada) does to try and “redefine” it. Analogously, Mexico could declare that Polo is the national sport of Canada. However, their “redefinition” of our culture doesn’t make it so.
Further, when the constitution was written, the word “marriage” was used for convenience even though it extended beyond the jurisdiction of the state to define it. The truth is that, by definition, the state only has the ability to define “civil” unions, whatever they may be… and the state is completely within its bounds to do so.
This being said, short of a constitutional amendment, the government is stuck with using the word “marriage” when it means “civil union”.
It expresses this restriction within C-38:
WHEREAS the Supreme Court of Canada has determined that the Parliament of Canada has legislative jurisdiction over marriage but does not have the jurisdiction to establish an institution other than marriage for couples of the same sex;
Thus the government has written a bill that describes “marriage for civil purposes“. This seems to be grant the government the ability to define “marriage” within its scope (ie. for civil purposes)
But, what about any perceived violations to one’s religious beliefs, expression of those beliefs, or expression of one’s disagreement with the Civil Marriage Act?
Bill C-38 states unambiguously:
WHEREAS everyone has the freedom of conscience and religion under section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;
WHEREAS nothing in this Act affects the guarantee of freedom of conscience and religion and, in particular, the freedom of members of religious groups to hold and declare their religious beliefs and the freedom of officials of religious groups to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs;
WHEREAS it is not against the public interest to hold and publicly express diverse views on marriage;
It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.
Religious freedoms are protected and the right to have a dissenting opinion on this issue does not label one as a criminal. (The bolded sections are amendments to the first reading). I believe that these amendments should alleviate any worry that one can be arrested or censured for one’s religious (or even personal) views on same-sex marriage. As the legislation currently stands, I cannot see any rational reason to oppose it.
I believe that the state exists to serve the individual, not the individual the state. Thus, rights exist at birth, and are not “granted” by any organization. I also believe in personal liberty and this is at the core of my support for C-38. I can now support the legislation because religious freedoms, freedom of dissention, and the rights of equality of gays and lesbians are now all guaranteed.
I am happy to endorse the equal recognition of the formalized union between two people, regardless of gender (to the exclusion of all others), under the jurisdiction of the state. The rights of “Marriage, for civil purposes” to gay couples has too long been withheld. I also believe that “Marriage for cultural purposes” is still preserved and that, again, no group or state can remove this by legislation. Irregardless, there is even a guarantee in C-38.
Ideally, the government wouldn’t have its hands on a cultural institution at all and would instead be defining for civil purposes, a legally and secularly discrete term for all people regardless of sexual orientation. However, we must deal in the reality that exists.
Instead of opposing C-38, Conservative members should have rallied to remove “marriage” from the constitution by amendment. This, however, would have been quite difficult and nearly impossible. But it would have been right, for everyone.
I’d also like to express that the Liberals have abused their power by ending debate on C-38 prematurely and should respect those that disagree. This is a minority Parliament and debate, under these conditions and regarding such a contentious bill, should be respected.
From an “ethics in Parliament” perspective, I also believe that the Conservative Party of Canada has been the only party to approach this issue with maturity, allowing its members to vote their consciences.
Well, that wasn’t too painful. Hopefully there are still some Conservatives out there who still believe in such things as fiscal sanity, government accountability, tax relief, criminal justice, healthcare sustainability, improved bilateral Canada-US relations, choice in childcare, provincial jurisdiction, international responsibility via military commitment and humanitarian aid, and personal liberties.
Comments and discussion are encouraged.