Gays must have the right to marryThe StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)
Wed 07 May 2003
Source: The StarPhoenix
Rather than drag its feet any longer on the issue, the federal Liberal government should do the right thing by quickly expanding the civil definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
A ruling last week by the B.C. Court of Appeal, which reiterated rulings by courts in Ontario and Quebec last year that denying gays the right to marry is unconstitutional, should convince Justice Minister Martin Cauchon to lead Canadians on the controversial issue instead of setting a course by the political winds.
Arguably, the courts' finding was inevitable from the moment prime minister Pierre Trudeau in 1969 decriminalized homosexual acts between consenting adults and famously uttered: "There's no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation."
That succeeding Liberals such as Cauchon, Prime Minister Jean Chretien and would-be leader Paul Martin have yet to screw up their courage to speak up clearly on extending a basic constitutional right to a minority group is a sad commentary on their leadership.
Despite the outcry from social conservatives and many religious groups, the unanimous ruling penned by British Columbia Appeals Court Justice Jo-Ann Prowse doesn't force churches to betray their principles and marry same-sex couples.
Rather, Justice Prowse says, "equality rights of same-sex couples do not displace the rights of religious groups to refuse to solemnize same-sex marriages which do not accord with their religious beliefs.
"Similarly, the rights of religious groups to freely practise their religion cannot oust the rights of same-sex couples seeking equality, by insisting on maintaining barriers in the way of that equality."
Citing liberally from the Ontario and Quebec cases, Prowse demolishes the basic objection that has been used for decades to prevent extending the right to marry to homosexuals -- that opposite-sex unions serve a unique social role of procreation (including child rearing) and intergenerational renewal.
Noting that advances in technology and changes in social and legal mores now permit same-sex couples to create and adopt children, she says there are no grounds to treat heterosexual unions as unique for procreation. (And it's not as if fertility tests or declarations of intent to procreate are required for heterosexual marriage.)
There's no evidence that granting same-sex couples the freedom to marry would diminish the number of children conceived by heterosexual couples, Prowse ruled.
As well, contrary to complaints from conservatives that allowing gays to wed would harm the institution of marriage, there's no evidence to show "how according same-sex couples the benefits flowing to opposite-sex couples in any way inhibits, dissuades or impedes the formation of heterosexual unions."
The reality is that most of the social and economic rights that accrue to legally sanctioned opposite-sex couples extend to common-law spouses and same-sex partners, covering the gamut from spousal support, adoption and guardianship to pension entitlements and medical decision-making.
Canadians' attitudes have changed to recognize the validity of these decisions by governments, courts and businesses and there's every reason to expect that granting gays the right to enjoy civil marriages will be similarly accepted by society.
While "registered domestic partnerships" have been raised as an alternative to same-sex marriage, Prowse rightly concludes that such a parallel measure "falls short of true equality." She says marriage should be redefined to include same-sex couples and termed as "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others."
Rather than facilitate polygamy, pedophilia or bestiality, as some irrational critics of removing the opposite-sex definition of marriage contend, surely the move to recognize same-sex couples who want to make a long-term commitment to one another only strengthens social stability and safety.
Any move to remove the stigma on same-sex unions and end the treatment of such couples as second-class citizens can only foster a healthier family environment for gay couples to raise the children they are legally permitted to have even under current laws.
Although Prowse has joined the Ontario and Quebec courts to give governments until July 12, 2004, to amend laws to include same-sex marriage, it's time that politicians made the inevitable and just reform now, instead of proceeding to the Supreme Court.
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