Saturday, July 4, 2009

Even your media cheerleaders know you're wrong

The Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, not known for being a particularly leftwing rag, has published a scathing condemnation of a proposal to allow Saskatchewan marriage commissioners to refuse to solemnize same sex marriages. When a centre right paper like the SP refers to a rightwing government's policy as "reprehensible" and effectively brands the minister of a rightwing government a coward, it becomes apparent just how wrongheaded the policy is.

For my non-Canadian readers (and for Canadians who may have spent the last five years on a desert island with no access to the news), let me explain that equal marriage has been the law in Canada for quite sometime by an act of the Canadian Parliament. It has been law in Saskatchewan somewhat longer by a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada.

For most everyone reading, let me also explain that marriage commissioners are agents of the state and only agents of the state. While they hold the same license as a clergyperson to solemnize marriages, they do not in any way act as agent for any religious body. In fact, the office of marriage commissioner was created precisely so that couples in Saskatchewan could have a wholly secular marriage ceremony.

This is manifestly not an issue of religious freedom.

Churches and other religious institutions, quite properly, are permitted to apply their own canonical requirements to any intended marriage. Thus no clergyperson is obliged to solemnize the marriage of any couple whose situation does not conform to canon law. A Baptist pastor can refuse to marry a same sex couple. A Roman priest can refuse to marry a couple where the husband is divorced from a woman still living. An Anglican priest can refuse to marry a couple whose relationship falls within the prohibited degrees (ie, a man marrying his deceased wife's sister). While they act as agents of the state, they are principally agents of their religious institution, and should that change, their capacity to solemnize marriages is automatically revoked by the province.

Marriage commissioners are civil servants. Like any other civil servant, they are obliged to apply the laws, regulations and policies of the province. Religious convictions are, in this matter, irrelevant. If they cannot comply with the law, there is nothing which compels them to become marriage commissioners. (Indeed, if they are governed by such religious scruple, isn't it counterintuitive for them to participate in a system specifically designed to provide for a non-religious means to solemnize a marriage?)

Now, as a matter of reasonableness, there might have been a case for creating a temporary exemption for those who were already marriage commissioners when the law changed. That is to say, the small number of existing marriage commissioners who scrupled at same sex marriage could have been grandfathered -provided that they assisted any same sex couple to find another marriage commissioner - but that the exemption would not extend to any new marriage commissioners. Existing marriage commissioners had no legal entitlement to that situation, and the previous government chose not to extend it to them.

Apart from being reprehensible and cowardly, what the Saskatchewan Party government proposes in patently absurd. It is analagous to saying that pacifists should be allowed to serve in the military but, should the balloon ever go up, they wouldn't have to put themselves in harms way so long as another soldier could be found to put his or her life at risk. I have a great deal of respect for pacifists. Most of them understand that they shouldn't be in the military, and so long as the state does not compel them to military service, the system works.

The SP editorial makes some other comparisons to show just how odious this proposal is:

Would the minister go to bat for a social conservative who objects, justified on grounds of "traditional values" or religion, to wed a mixed-race couple? How about a Hindu doctor who refuses to treat a person he believes to be of a lower caste?

. . .

Surely Mr. Morgan wouldn't be asking the court if it's legally acceptable for a government manager to refuse to hire a First Nation worker based purely on her race, as long as he is able to identify another manager at a Crown corporation who's willing to hire her?

If this were about race or caste or even religion, even Don Morgan would be able to recognize this for what it is. Instead of being the Minister of Justice for all the people of Saskatchewan, he has chosen to pander to hatred. Words like "reprehensible" and "coward" are barely sufficient.


Kdog said...

I'm not a priest, but I think you need to re-read certain sections of your Bible and give your head a shake.

The watered-down viewpoint you have is repugnant. Don't bend in the wind like a reed. Saint Peter himself said to follow the laws of God, rather than the laws of man. Maybe you should read Leviticus 18 and then 1 Corinthians 6.

Jesus didn't say, "Do want you want, it's all good.", he said, "Love God above all, and your neighbour as yourself." You can't do what man wants you to do if it would mean breaking God's laws.

I don't really care if you allow this comment to be posted or not. I just want you to read this and think about it.

Malcolm+ said...

I'm not in the practice of refusing to publish comments. The only exception to this is one particular poster whose comments were frequently crude and abusive. Stay away from that, and there is no reason your comments won't be published.

That said, you comment misses the mark on a number of points.

First of all, the central issue here is whether public servants should be given the right to pick and choose in the application of the law.

Second, it is all well and good to offer up proof texts, but it is a meaningless effort when the proof textx are taken out of context. Leviticus 18 is part of the Holiness Code which includes prohibitions against such things as eating pork. It is curious to argue that one pice of this section is biunding while another is not. Further, the precise interpretation of the one apparent reference to sexual relations between two men has been disputed for centuries - long before modern Biblical criticism or modern debates about human sexuality. 1 Corinthians 6 refers to sexual relations with prostitutes and makes no apparent distinction between the sex of the prostitute or the client. It is worth noting, however, that several of the other proof texts often trotted out which appear to refer specifically to sexual relations between two men are often found in the context of discussions of temple prostitution.

Third, even is we accept that the texts in questionare all a) referring to sexual relations between two men (there are no texts referring to sexual relations between women) and b) unambiguously condemning such relationships, that still leaves the larger question of how the interpretation of scripture evolves - for evolve it does.

Scripture's condemnation of usury, for example, is clear, unambiguous and repeated far more often than the few obscure comments about sexual relations between men. Yet following on the ionfluence of John Calvin, we have decided that the condemnation of usury no longer applies. Similarly the clear Biblical teaching regarding slavery. If the Church has the capacity to change her mind regarding these clear and unambiguous injunctions, it follows that she has the capacity to do so regarding a small handful of ambiguous passages.

No one here has ever claimed that we should "Do what you want. It's all good." I realize that straw men are easier to argue against, KDog, but you really should try harder.

Finally, if a marriage commissioner does not want to solemnize a same sex union, there is nothing that says they have to do so. They are free to turn in their license any time and resign as a marriage commissioner.

Of course, that would involve integrity.