Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Enough about same sex marriage, already

VICTORIA - It's probably wrong to classify the same sex marriage debate as completely irrelevant.
But where are our priorities? Children are going hungry, drug addiction is a national crisis, our health care faces big challenges over the next 20 years, our political system is wounded - and we're wringing our hands over a word.
This isn't a debate about whether gays and lesbians in a committed relationship should have all the rights of heterosexuals. Every significant participant, including Ralph Klein and Stephen Harper, agree that they already do, and should.
It isn't a debate about whether churches should be somehow forced to recognize same sex marriages. Every serious participant agrees they shouldn't.
All this thrashing and political posturing is about whether two people can get a piece of paper from a government office that says they are married. Some people would like a different word on the piece of paper; some think that marriage is OK. That's it.
The courts - from the BC Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada - have ruled that the gay and lesbians have a right to be married. The federal Liberals plan to change the law to recognize that right.
And for all the fuss, the new law doesn't have any real impact.
Churches would not have to perform same sex marriages. The legal or economic status of the couples would be unaffected, since the economic rights of people living together have already been established. With or without the piece of paper, same sex couples will be living together, raising children, going about their business.
Nothing really changes. That's what's puzzling about the claims that this represents some big threat.
Same-sex couples will be able to get a form from a government office that says they are married. That's it. That piece of paper will have the meaning and significance that they - and others - choose to give it. No one is forced to share their view.
Many people believe same sex relationships are wrong, or that real marriage can only involve a man and a woman. They are fully entitled to continue to hold those beliefs. I have a friend whose grandmother went to her grave refusing to acknowledge his marriage, or his children, because his wife was from outside their religion. It was sad, but she had a right to that belief.
As people will have right to believe that same sex marriages aren't 'real.'
The arguments against same sex marriage seem weak.
Gay relationships are less stable, some argue, stable relationships are good for children, so gay marriage is damaging to society.
Except that gay and lesbian couples will still choose to raise families, with or without the piece of paper. There's no change. If anything, marriage vows encourage stability.
Others - like Conservative leader Stephen Harper, who is floundering badly on this issue - argue that the real issue is whether laws should be made in the courts or Parliament.
But the courts are simply saying that Parliament has to make laws that don't conflict with each other. Parliament passed the charter of rights, and a marriage definition law that conflicts with it. That had to be sorted out.
Other opponents of the change resort to tired slippery slope arguments, the last refuge of those unable to support their position. Allow one change to the definition of marriage, they say, and the next thing you know people will be marrying their cats. It's foolish. No sensible person could believe a court would uphold such a definition, or that Parliament would pass such a law.
I figure that if two men or women want to marry, as they define it, more power to them. It's a blessing to find someone to share this life. If you disagree, I respect your view and you're continued right to hold that opinion.
But this isn't a big change. Let's move on to more serious problems.
Footnote: Why not then, if this is not significant, leave things as they are? We can't. The charter of rights provides a right to same-sex marriage. The only way to wipe out that right requires an extraordinary use of the notwithstanding clause to waive the rights and freedoms guaranteed to all Canadians. And that's dangerous.

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