"Canada's same-sex marriage debacle lasted all of about three days and ended with the government assuring all gay couples who married here, but do not reside here, that not only is their marriage valid but they can come here any time to enjoy the weather, curling and get a divorce." CNS photo

Glad to see government has its priorities straight

By  Charles Lewis
  • January 17, 2012

One thing the “great gay divorce crisis of January 2012” has shown is that our government can move fast when it feels a need to get something important done. The same-sex marriage debacle lasted all of about three days and ended with the government assuring all gay couples who married here, but do not reside here, that not only is their marriage valid but they can come here any time to enjoy the weather, curling and get a divorce.

Meantime, the government’s office of religious freedom, promised almost a year ago during the federal election campaign, still sits in limbo with no details being released to the public about what such an office would look like or when it might open.

Perhaps the issue of non-resident gay couples seeking divorce in Canada is  greater than I understand. On the other hand, maybe the government was just desperate to prove it has no secret agenda to revisit same-sex marriage, just as it has no plan to revisit Canada’s policy (non-policy) on abortion.

As happy as I am that the government settled this whole gay divorce mess, there are some things I still do not understand.

To review: A  gay couple discovered they could not get a divorce in Canada because they did not meet the residency requirement. It also appeared that their marriage had no real status because their home jurisdictions, Florida and the U.K., do not recognize same-sex unions.

The story never made sense on several levels. First, if a couple could marry here without residency requirements why couldn’t they divorce here? Well, apparently they now can following government assurances. Second, it seemed odd that the couple would feel the need for a divorce when one was not required. They could have worked out a simple contract to divide assets and be done with it. But, then, that might be seen as discriminatory, and no one would want the stigma of a tainted divorce.

Rather, they sought the right to come to Canada to have their divorce officially sanctioned. They also have the right to spend thousands of dollars, complete agonizing paperwork and make endless trips to lawyers’ offices — all to prove they are not second-class citizens and their divorces are the equal of any fractious heterosexuals.

There was a more serious aspect, of course. For about 24 hours a scare went out for those gay men and women that their Canadian marriages were not real. I can understand how that would be upsetting. So the government was right to assure these people that Canadians are not indifferent to their feelings, given these couples were allowed to marry here in the first place.

But I can also see how being killed for being a Christian in Egypt or Nigeria would also be upsetting — which returns me to the government promise of an office of religious freedom and the broader issue of responding quickly to dire situations. To date, the government has said nothing about what that new office will look like. They have held consultations behind closed doors, but otherwise have not said a word.

Actually, that is not totally true. According to Canadian Press, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird did defend the government’s plans after receiving criticism from Alex Neve, head of Amnesty International Canada.

The Canadian Press story said: “Neve said religious freedom can have a ‘contentious relationship’ with other crucial human-rights concerns such as women’s equality, the equality rights of gays and lesbians and freedom of expression. It’s an area obviously where governments need to tread carefully. They need to do so in ways where they don’t — either intentionally or unintentionally — convey a message that some religions are preferred over others.”

Baird told Canadian Press that such concerns are not necessary. Though I am still unsure what his reassurances are actually about.

The government is still studying what such an office would look like. I’m sure many persecuted people around the world will breathe a sigh of relief once Baird can announce a few details. But clearly there is no rush.

This is not a topic in which paranoids can accuse the government of having a secret agenda. And at the end of the day maybe Canadians are more concerned about a single gay divorce than about the violent religious persecution of thousands of men, women and children.

(Lewis covers religion for the National Post and is editor of its religion web site, Holy Post. He’s on Twitter @holycharlie.)

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