Sunday, November 07, 2004

Gay Rights, Same Sex Marriage, and Equality

Gay Rights, Same Sex Marriage, and Equality

Is it possible for a Canadian to argue against same-sex marriage and
still legitimately claim to support equality of all Canadians? This is a
trick and political question but one I decided I wanted to address
directly. My answer is short: no. The only way to oppose same-sex
marriage is to oppose equality in practice and in principle. It might be
possible to do precisely this, although because inequality is decidedly
out of vogue these days (and, in my view, with good reason), so the
going would be tough. I don't have the space to get into how this might
be done, but I suspect it would need to involve some return to the
principles laid down by George Grant a generation and more ago in his
conservative treatments of Canadian nationhood. Grant was a smart and
insightful man and one could do a lot worse than begin with him.

Instead, what I thought I would do is quickly review a couple of the
standard lines of reason those who oppose same sex marriage take and
indicate why I think they are flawed. First, the argument that churches
and other religious institutions will be forced to perform same-sex
marriages when they disagree with them is patently false. In fact,
government that would try to force a religious institution to perform
same-sex marriage rights would run afowl of the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms. The Charter guarantees freedom of conscience which means that
the government cannot compel a church (synagogue or temple, etc.) to
perform marriage rights that they reject. It is, I suppose, odd that the
very document -- The Charter -- which promotes same sex marriage also
preserves the right of religious institutions to opt out of performing
rites, but that is the case.

Second, the argument that same sex marriage is being forced on Canadians
by the courts is untrue. As I noted in a previous blog, about 2/3rds of
Canadians voted for parties that support same sex marriage. We have no
evidence of majority opposition to it. Those who oppose same sex
marriage on supposedly democratic grounds, therefore, are on weak
footing. Canadians support equality.

Third, there is the argument that same-sex marriages are different from
straight marriages in that gay couples can't have children in the
traditional means. I don't know what to say about this because I find
this argument odd. It seems to me that those people who make this
argument are claiming the right to define what constitutes a family and
then saying only families that correspond to this definition count. This
is a serious infringement on people's right to define their own lives.
What if a couple does not want to have children? What if they prefer to
adopt? What if they cannot have children for one reason or another?
There are so many problems here that I would not want to touch this one.
Personally, I oppose efforts to have the state define for me what
constitutes my family. I don't like the idea -- that seems implicit in
this argument -- that the state will determine whether my family is
legitimate or not. I would prefer to not let the state have this power
over anyone's life.

But, someone might ask, are gay couples different? Different from whom?
The couple that live across the road for me maintain two jobs, pay their
taxes, watch tv together on Friday nights, and care for an againg
parent. One of them jogs to stay in shape; they are polite, drop over
now and then to chat about my kids, and give out Hallowe'en candy. From
whom are they different? They are socially responsible individuals who
care about family, respect the laws, keep their house neat, and show an
interest in their neighbours lives. Is that different? I hope not.
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