fires back on gay marriage. As she says "our differences lie in competing gods" or something like that. While I am not quite so certain that my Christian God would be quite so quick to condemn gay marriage as Kathy's, (this may have to do with the fact I am an Anglican in the Diocese of New Westminster and my church, after much debate, has adopted the position that gay unions may be blessed), the issue is legal rather than religious.
This is the key difference between social conservatives and fundamentalists and the urban conservative or libertarian position. For socons the Law of God - however interpreted - trumps the Rule of Law. For urban conservatives religion, like sexual practice or choice of tipple is an entirely personal matter and cannot provide a basis for legislation. It is the great divide created by the Enlightenment. As such it ensures that Kathy and I will not agree on the ultimate question of gay marriage because we will not agree on the status of religious teaching as a guide to government action.
That said, Kathy raises a number of secondary points where neither the Diety nor Bora Laskin need be invoked to suggest a little closer look might be in order.The Canadian Constitution v. 5000 years of Scripture and Tradition
- For all of its imperfections, and there are many, the Canadian Constitution has the advantage of being limited and determinable. 5000 years of Scripture and Traditon, even within the Christian world, gives rise to endless disputes as to authority and interpretation. While Kathy, as a Catholic, can at least point at the Pope and say "Yeah, what he says." those of us who by tradition live outside the Roman Catholic Church have no such certainty. But all Christians, including Catholics, have to face the fact that the 5000 year tradition is filled with editorial, opinion and fashion. It took virtually the whole of that 5000 year history for there to emerge a Christian consensus that slavery was, er, bad. And how long did it take certain variants of the Christian tradition to get past the traditional anti-semitism of the European churches?
The advantage of the Canadian Constitution is that is sets out the major principles of the Enlightment, principally equality, freedom of speech and freedom of religion in a relatively straightforward way. Its interpretation is in the hands of intelligent, independent people at every level of the judiciary. And, if the results of their interpretation are too awful to be borne, the Constitution itself provides a formula for its own amendment and a "local option" for Provinces which are willing to invoke the notwithstanding clause. For socons Trudeau and all his works are anathema; for urban conservatives Trudeau is a more ambiguous figure. His libertarian views, "the State has no business in the bedrooms of the Nation" and his commitment to Enlightenment values notwithstanding his personal and very deep Catholicism, offset his remarkable economic ineptitude and centralist bias.
What tips the balance in favour of the Constitution is that taking its protections of equality, speech and religion seriously will tend to reduce the threat of religious zealotry infecting the legal system. No small thing. While I find the Bishop of Calgary's invocation of Hellfire for politicians who support the legalization of same sex marriage profoundly offensive, the Constitution ensures that his views will not end up as the law of the land. And, given the rates of immigration and the birthrates in Canada's Muslim community, the metaphorical fatwa of the Bishop of Calgary is not the worst that could happen if the Enlightenment project embodied in the Constitution is abandoned.State Licences
"But the State doles out medical licences and driver's licences, too. "To anyone who asks for it"?? We're so used to blithely believing that 'discrimination' of any stripe is wrong, ignoring the fact that all (sane) people discriminate every day, or suffer the consequences." My suspicion is that Kathy had not had her second cup of coffee when she wrote this. Requiring qualification is not the same as discrimination; but if we refuse to, say, grant a medical licence to an otherwise qualified doctor because she is a woman or Chinese that would be discrimination. (Don't get me started on drivers licences which are apparently included in CrackerJack boxes here in British Columbia.) The point is that marriage licences are available without any qualification other than the applicants being over a certain age and not currently married. Homosexuality as Choice
"what if it turns out that homosexuality is a choice after all?" There are two aspects to this; first, the scientific question of the causes of homosexuality, second, the philosophical issue of the status of choice. On the first element my own reading suggests, pace
Dan Quayle who put the choice position rather starkly stating homosexuality "is more of a choice than a biological situation...It is a wrong choice.", a growing body of scientific evidence pointing to a significant element of biological determinism in homosexual behaviour. The research is far from conclusive but the notion of the heritability of sexual orientation is not absurd. If it were to turn out that homosexuals were "as God made them" it would seem perverse for any Church to condemn homosexuality; but let's grant the opposite premise. Let's say every homosexual has decided for whatever reason to adopt his or her sexual posture.
For Dan Quayle this is a wrong choice. For plenty of other people it is a legitimate, if difficult, decision. For others it is "fashionable" with whatever moral freight that carries. In no case is such a choice analogous, as Kathy claims it is, to choosing to have a disability when one does not actually have that disability and then seeking disability benefits. Being gay is not being in any sense impaired or disabled, faking disability to gain state benefits is simply fraud.
Whether a person is born gay or chooses to be gay does not alter their legal status as a person. And that legal status is all that the same sex marriage argument is about from the State's perspective. If two persons ask for a marriage licence and they are of age and not married to anyone else, equality before the law requires that they be given a licence. Gay, straight, confused: it is none of the State's business. Of Bishops and Fatwas
Kathy takes me to task for suggesting that the Bishop of Calgary's remarks as to Chretien's risking his immortal soul by supporting same sex marriage legislation amounted to a fatwa. "A fatwa is a human judgement encouraging murder (a sin) as earthly punishment for something that probably isn't even a sin to begin with. On the other hand, God judges our thoughts and deeds, and respecting the free will with which He endowed us, gives us what we've asked for and deserve: separation from Him for all eternity."
In fact a fatwa is a ruling made by a Muslim cleric in accordance with precedent and Holy Law. It need not encourage murder or any other punishment. It is made in light of that particular cleric's understanding of Sharia.
To compare the remarks of the Bishop of Calgary to a fatwa is not relativistic at all. They have precisely the same logical status: they are binding upon believers and dismissed by non-believers. The critical thing about these sorts of religious statements is that they come from the pre-Enlightenment world in which clerics routinely condemned politicians for acting contrary to the Will of God and had their words taken seriously. Post Enlightenment, clerics are still perfectly free to offer their opinions of the state of politicians' souls; but nothing substantive turns on those opinions. This is a vital, perhaps the most vital, element of a liberal, in the old sense of that word, society. Religion in all its flavours has been removed from public policy.
It is the very opposite of relativism to claim that removal is a good thing. Relativists are inclined to argue that stoning women to death who conceive children out of wedlock is a legitimate religious and cultural expression and that we must respect the differing customs of other societies. I am not. Of Marriage
I agree with Kathy that marriage is rather more than the licence. However, the question which the State has to deal with turns on that licence and the right citizens to obtain that licence. Were it up to me I would get the State out of the marriage business altogether. No licences, no authorized marriage commissioners, no involvement at all. This would leave it up to couples - gay or straight - to figure out how they were going to get married. At a guess not many gay couples would seek the blessing of the Bishop of Calgary.
I would also be inclined to privatize divorce, a private system could not work any worse than the current mess. The only area in which I am inclined to see a legitimate State interest is in the protection of children and here there is a great deal of work to be done so that children's interests are, in fact, protected rather than merely being used as a bargaining chip as between ex-partners.