Dignity and Difference: Presenting Before the Parliamentary Committee on the Same-sex Marriage Bill

IAIN T. BENSON

I recently returned from a trip to the humid expanses of Ottawa and Toronto. I was invited to appear before the Parliamentary Committee on Bill C-38, the same sex marriage bill.

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Iain T. Benson

After only a few days to prepare a brief, and no days to translate it (they wanted all materials before them to be submitted in French and English and would help if one got the Brief to them many days before — too many days for me) a terrible series of missed flights and bad night’s sleep, I eventually appeared before them as their second to last witness CPAC, the Parliamentary television program taped the whole thing so it will be somewhere in a dusty vault for my children’s children to view I suppose … sigh.

The M. P.’s on the Committee were courteous and the proceedings were tightly choreographed. The President of the Committee, Monsieur Roulx, informed us that the three witness presenters each had 10 minutes then each of the four political parties (Liberal, Conservative, NDP and Bloc Quebecois) would get 7 minutes to question us.

The presenters were Stanley Hartt, former Chief of Staff to former Conservative Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and now Chairman of Citigroup, your humble servant, and Rev. David Maines, a television evangelist.

Mr. Hartt went first and spoke eloquently about how the word “marriage” just couldn’t be changed by law and that it was unnecessary to do so. All arguments made unsuccessfully before the Courts. He was right, however, to point out that the Supreme Court of Canada Reference left many unexplored options that the Same-sex Marriage Bill ignores. I suspect this would be just so much “oh yeah, …..yawn…….” from the politicos who are set permanently to the settings of the last activist group that left their offices….

I went next and my brief [click here] now available on the Centre’s website (so I shall not repeat my arguments here.) The essence of my brief was that proper respect for the dignity of another citizen cannot entail that I accept all the practices or beliefs of the other citizen. Just as one citizen cannot force other citizens to accept religious beliefs or practices (since based on dogma and belief) so another citizen cannot force other citizens to accept his or her sexual practices or belief (also based upon dogma and belief).

Therefore the government should not attempt to force recognition of same-sex practices (entailed in marriage) by legislation.

Next came David Maines’ presentation. He represents a well-known television show “101 Huntley Street.” He spent four minutes of his important time talking about his past discussions and associations with Svend Robinson (a former M.P. who resigned in disgrace after a ring-stealing episode) and his high regard for the man because he “follows his beliefs.”

The Committee had many questions about the concerns of religious groups. Mostly they professed themselves surprised along the following line:
  1. The numbers of gays and lesbians seeking access to marriage is small so “hey, it won’t affect you religious folks.”;

  2. This law is only about “civil” marriage and shouldn’t therefore worry religious people;

  3. Times change and isn’t the attempt to set up “civil unions” or some other non-marital kind of category simply another “separate but equal” kind of thing?
Generally, they (the Liberals and others supporting the bill such as the Bloc and the NDP) wanted to assure religious groups that this bill is only about “Civil” marriage and won’t affect religious groups.

I dealt with all the arguments, above, and several more key ones.


The essence of my brief was that proper respect for the dignity of another citizen cannot entail that I accept all the practices or beliefs of the other citizen. Just as one citizen cannot force other citizens to accept religious beliefs or practices (since based on dogma and belief) so another citizen cannot force other citizens to accept his or her sexual practices or belief (also based upon dogma and belief).


First, that “only a few gays and lesbians relatively speaking, want to get married.” The numbers are irrelevant because what is being sought is to change a constitutional norm to achieve social recognition. That will then change all of society because the claim will be made that the new norm should apply in all public fora, including public education, thus affecting everyone. To illustrate the last point I used the following metaphor.

Same sex activists say that their claim is just like adding two drops of oil (themselves) to a bucket of water (the rest of society) — they argue, on this example, that little or nothing is changed. The reality is that it is like adding two drops of food colouring to a bucket of water — the whole is changed. That is, after all, their intent whether they are conscious of it or not (and most are).

Second, marriage is a social institution that does not divide into “civil” and “religious.” All citizens are in the civil and the concept of marriage is shared between them as part of our “civic glue” (at the moment). Dividing “civil” from “religious” in this way just plays into the hands of secularism.

Third, the “separate but equal” argument applied to racism does not apply to same-sex marriage claims. The notion of “separate but equal” based on the U.S. case on segregationist education, Brown v. Board of Education (1954) does reject the establishment of prejudicial second-class categories. But the claim for same-sex marriage is not the same as fair treatment in education where exclusions were based on race because rejecting same sex marital claims is not the same sort of thing.

This is because, in racism, one is rejecting a race “all the way down” and rejecting their personhood not their beliefs. Same-sex marriage is a belief of same-sex people, a dogmatic view that they have, it is not the same as rejection of a particular gay or lesbian person per se. I can respect gays and lesbians without granting the validity of their claim for marriage recognition just as they can respect the dignity of a religious person without accepting his or her beliefs. The validity (or non-validity) of same-sex conduct is a belief like other beliefs.

Just as one can reject a belief that a particular religious person may have and to try to use law to force acceptance of my religious beliefs is going too far, so it is going too far to use law to force acceptance of gay or lesbian beliefs — such as the belief in same-sex marriage. Remember that the law did not define heterosexual marriage, it recognized it.

Of course, in the briefs put before them, and special mention here must be made of Peter Lauwers’ excellent one on public education, [click here] and how it will be changed by a constitutional norm change to include same-sex marriage, religious groups explained why the proposed bill would effect them and the long list of recent attacks to marginalize and stigmatize them in Canadian society.

The proposed “Civil Marriage Act” is a clever bit of secularistic planning. It drives a further wedge between religions and society since the line between some so-called “civil” and “religious” marriage is, of course, an illusion. All citizens are part of the civil whether or not they are religious citizens. Secularism simply uses this alluring distinction to get the upper hand yet again. Marriage is for all citizens and the goal of changing it is just proceeding one step at a time — the pose of giving comfort to religious groups is the step just prior to attacking them head on.

After the Committee had asked its hard questions of Mr. Hartt and myself, they decided to ask most of their questions to Rev. David Maines. For the most part he spoke generally about concerns of Christians regarding society generally and did not seemed well versed in the specifics of the Bill itself.

The old legal adage about not asking a question to which one does not know the answer plays out slightly differently in these governmental Committees. There the theory is, “don’t ask a question unless you think the answerer will give you what you want or will do less damage than others will to the position you want to advocate.” Svend Robinson was a past master at asking questions in Committee, of those he knew would put the worst (or least best) light on the positions he opposed.

The Committee, by all accounts, had been stacked before the hearings began to ensure that its majority mind would not be swayed. Apparently Prime Minister Martin has said “perhaps I ought not to have stacked the Committee so heavily.” Good of him. What a guy — not only a serious Catholic but dispassionately aware, after the fact, of the effects of gerrymandering…! The Bill is going forward but some of the amendments suggested by the Committee (including one made in our brief) shows that they are unsettled by what is before them. The so-called Civil Marriage Bill is not a good or fair thing for Canada and should not be passed into law.

Speaking with Committee members and a few M.P.’s afterwards it is generally acknowledged that the most effective presentation before them by anyone or group was that made by Bishop Fred Henry of Calgary. The portion of the Hearing with his comments may be found here.

If you want to know what our arguments were, you can read the brief or consult the Parliamentary site :

First Report, June 15, 2005 - [click here]
Committee Membership - [click here]


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Benson, Iain T. "Dignity and Difference: Presenting Before the Parliamentary Committee on the Same-sex Marriage Bill". CentreBlog Volume 88 (June 22, 2005).

Reprinted from the Centre for Cultural Renewal's blog, "CentreBlog", with permission of the author, Iain Benson.

THE AUTHOR

Iain T. Benson is Executive Director of the Centre for Cultural Renewal, an Ottawa-based "think-tank". He travels and lectures widely in North America and overseas on philosophical, theological and legal issues related to "strategic cultural renewal." Iain Benson is a member of the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2005 CentreBlog




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