'Ask the people, Stephen'

By  Bishop Fred Henry, Catholic Register Special
  • November 24, 2006

In late June of last year,  without the benefit of social scientific evidence, adequate democratic deliberation and the normal process of judicial appeals, and with inordinate pressure put on members of Parliament by party leaders, the House of Commons passed Bill C-38.

The bill changed the definition of civil marriage to "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others," allowing same-sex couples to wed.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said repeatedly that he is keeping his campaign promise to hold a free vote in the House of Commons on whether the issue of "same-sex marriage" should be revisited.

Prior to doing so, following the initiative of the National Assembly of France, to ensure an intelligent and responsible vote, he should create a task force or commission to produce a Parliamentary Report on the Family and the Rights of the Child.

We have heard rumours that the federal government is also preparing a Defence of Marriage Act in case the motion to reopen the "same-sex marriage" issue fails. The intent of such a move has its laudable side as a backup plan to protect the religious and conscience rights of individuals who are opposed to acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle but it doesn't go far enough.

We need to draw a clear distinction between the public institution of marriage and other voluntary relationships. The marital bond is different because of its stability, the environment it provides for the development of families, and the protection it accords spouses and children.

Through marriage, two equal but sexually different persons give themselves and their complementarity to each other for a lifetime, for the benefit of each other and their family. By their pledge of lifelong fidelity, they provide the most stable conditions for bringing children into the world and raising them. By their sexual difference, they provide their children the full range of human nurturing that comes by being raised by a mother and a father.

The stable, loving relationship of a mother and father found only in marriage provides the ideal conditions for raising and socializing children. Quite understandably, however, those conditions do not always exist. Many single parents do an exemplary job of raising children and deserve recognition for the extraordinary sacrifices they make in their daily lives. Supporting such families, as a just and compassionate society must do, is far different than deliberately creating motherless and fatherless families by establishing same-sex unions.

Marriage as the lifelong union of a man and a woman is not one "model" among many options of equal public significance. It is rather the very building block of the family and society.

On Nov. 7, our neighbours in Colorado, Idaho, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin all approved bans on homosexual "marriage." For example, in Virginia, the marriage amendment reads as follows:

"That only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions.

"This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities or effects of marriage."

The amendment in no way precludes individuals from being designated in wills, powers of attorney or advance medical directives. The amendment does not affect hospital visitations.

The amendment does not change benefits. A company's provision of health benefits to non-employees need not be limited to relationship that fit Virginia's definition of marriage.

To date, the electorate in 27 American states have approved such bans.

Prohibiting "same-sex marriage" is not unjust discrimination. Most Canadians agree that homosexual persons must be treated with respect, compassion and sensitivity because all human beings are equal in their intrinsic dignity.

It is wrong to discriminate against persons, but it is right and necessary to distinguish between different kinds of relationships.

It should be noted that our government already does this. For example, in the case of marriage, federal legislation prohibits people from marrying if they are related linearly or as brother and sister, whether by whole blood, half blood or by adoption. Specifically: a woman may not marry her grandfather, father, grandson, son or brother. A man may not marry his grandmother, mother, granddaughter, daughter or sister.

Such prohibitions, however, are not viewed as unjust discrimination against relatives, married people or children.

It's time to ask Canadians what they think. Ask the people, Stephen!

(Bishop Henry is the bishop of the diocese of Calgary, Alta.)

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