Forgive Me Cardinal, For I Have Sinned ...
(The Church Strikes Back!)
On January 18 2005, Aloysius Ambrozic released an open letter to Prime Minister Paul Martin, on the Federal Government's intention to put same-sex marriage on an equal plane with heterosexual marriage.
To no one's surprise, the Cardinal opposes the recognition of same-sex marriage, and advised the Prime Minister to use the Constitution's "notwithstanding clause" to provide Canadians a period of 5 years in which we can consider whether or not the courts have been right to insist the Constitution's guarantee of equality is violated by limiting marriage to the union of a man and a woman only.
As others have pointed out, the Cardinal deserves credit for having the intellectual honesty to recognize that forbidding gays from marrying is discriminatory and would necessitate the use of the notwithstanding clause. But that is about all the credit he deserves.
Not only does the Cardinal insist that gays be treated - by the state - as less than fully equal citizens, he seems to believe that his church's beliefs and morals must take precedence over those denominations and faiths that believe marriage is a rite which should be available to gains as well as straights.
Naturally, I was unable to resist my urge to tilt at windmills and fired off an open letter of my own.
January 20, 2005
I am not a Catholic and never have been, though I was for a time schooled under your church's tutelage, during which time I was imparted with such "facts" as that "Man killed off the dinosaurs".
Nevertheless, since you have seen fit to enter the secular debate on same-sex marriage using your (notably un-elected position as a bully-pulpit), it is my duty as a concerned citizen to use my own, also unelected, position as a blogger to respond to your letter to our Prime Minister.
As I am aware of your position within the hierarchy of your church, it is only fair that you understand mine. I have no position save that as citizen. I do not claim to speak for others. I represent only myself.
I am an atheist, not apostate (despite the aforementioned Roman Catholic schooling - in the benighted days of my youth, a French education meant a Catholic education).
As you have no doubt guessed, I am in favour of equal rights for all citizens. I support the recognition of same-sex marriage as no more and no less legitimate in the eyes of the law as the marriage between a man and a woman. I support the right of homosexual Canadians to live in full legal equality with their heterosexual fellows.
Your letter to the Prime Minister is a masterpiece of apparently thoughtful discourse and I commend you for eschewing such terms as "evil", "gravely immoral" and "depravity" while setting forth your views.
Nevertheless, I cannot help but sense the heart-beat of the Inquisition lurking beneath your liberal-minded rhetoric.
You say that, "So far the debate has been among lawyers. It is time for there to be a debate in Canadian society as a whole. It is time for ordinary Canadians to be given a sufficient opportunity to discuss the issues and to reflect on the deeper implications before a debate occurs in Parliament and a decision is made that could irrevocably change the nature of marriage and the family in Canada."
In my world, Cardinal, the debate - sometimes heated - has been ongoing for nearly 2 years. It has been discussed around my family dinner-table and over drinks with friends; it has been debated on the radio and on television and has taken up many column inches in every newspaper with which I am familiar. To imply that Canadians are only now waking up to the issue is at best rhetorical over-kill.
You say your "purpose in writing this open letter to you is to urge caution in taking this step towards the re-definition of marriage", but your ultimate position - that same-sex marriage is wrong - indeed, that it is worse than wrong and will prove a catastrophe for our society is well-known and is, indeed, both implicit and explicit in your Letter.
You say that "social structures like marriage and the family that lie at the core of our society" and go on to claim those structures are imbued with "wisdom and experience of the ages".
Let us leave aside the fact that the "wisdom and experience of the ages" include such "facts" as that slavery is a given, that women should not have the vote (indeed, that the vote itself is an affront to God!) or that families of many kinds preceded your church itself.
Instead, permit me to question your contention that "social structures like marriage and the family that lie at the core of our society".
If you refer to "social structures" alone, your statement is so vague as to be meaningless. I can think of no "social structure" remotely like the "traditional" family.
If by "the family" you refer to the union of a man and a woman, sanctified by your church, for most of Western history, you refer to an institution that was unavailable to the great mass of the people and that, for the aristocracy, had much more to do with political economy than it did with love.
The foundation of your argument is based on a premise that is at best incomplete; at worst, it is disingenuous.
You go on to claim that allowing same-sex marriage "poses significant social risks", but neglect to say what they are. The closest you come is to say that permitting same-sex marriage will lead to teaching young Canadians that "homosexual activity and heterosexual activity are morally equivalent" but neglect to explain why they are not.
Those who maintain that so-called "victimless crimes" such as (illegal) drug use should remain so-classified can at least point to actual, physical, harm caused by those crimes. Your fear, that "[p]ublic schools will be required to provide sex education in that light" is a circular argument that only panders to the fear at the heart of your Letter.
You ask if it is fair to "put children in the position of having to reconcile the values and beliefs of their parents with a novel state-sponsored understanding of marriage that may not be truly supported by the majority of Canadians?"
Leaving aside the fact that all public education is "state-sponsored" (are you calling for a return to a strictly parochial education system? If so, please say so), the education system is supposed to encourage its students to question received authority - anything less is indoctrination, not education.
You further ask the Prime Minister if has "received assurances from provincial premiers that they are providing legislative protection for the right of religious officials and organizations to decline to celebrate same-sex marriages that are contrary to their faith?"
Cardinal, I know of no one in this country who has proposed denying your church - or any other - the right to be as exclusive in its offering of rites as it chooses to be. The Federal Government's proposed legislation is inclusive, not exclusive: it proposes to acknowledge the marriages performed by some churches as as legitimate as those performed by yours.
Have you forgotten that there is more than 1 church in this country that has been blessing same-sex unions, as marriages, for many years? What about the rights of those churches, and of their adherents?
Finally, you ask the Prime Minister to invoke the notwithstanding clause of our Constitution, in order (you say) to provide the citizens of our country a 5-year period in which to debate the merits of this issue.
On the surface, this appears to be a reasonable request. After all, the prejudice against homosexuality runs deep in the hearts of many Canadians, the idea that society as a whole would sanction their unions as "marriage" even more so. Many people will be upset, offended and horrified.
But I do not believe the psychological discomfort at the actions of other people is sufficient grounds to deny those other people their human rights as guaranteed by Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The Charter was expressly enacted in large part in order to protect the minority from the tyranny of the majority. (And, it should be noted, even you admit there is no incontrovertible evidence to suggest that those who oppose same-sex marriage constitute a majority of this country's population.)
To deny full citizenship to an individual, or to groups of individuals, one is obliged to show harm, not merely to cower before the possibility that children will be challenged to question the thinking of their parents.
Geoffrey Dow, citizen