Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Get. Away. From. Me.

Babble on.

Yesterday, I received an e-mail from a socially-conservative advocacy group tersely requesting I post their press release on my site. The text of the release was boilerplate anti-SSM stuff.

Here was my response:

You've mistaken me for someone who cares about your narrow agenda.

Damian Brooks

Anyone who has bothered to look up my opinion on the matter of same-sex marriage knows my position doesn't line up with any official party position - even the CPC policy. It certainly doesn't line up with the so-con our-way-or-the-highway view.

I care about Canada's flagging economic competitiveness in an increasingly competitive world; I care about the devaluation of our system of criminal law and enforcement; I care about our incoherent foreign and defence policies, and how they are diminishing Canadian impact on the world stage; I care about keeping governmental influence out of my family's child-rearing choices as much as possible.

This is but a small sampling of the lengthy list of things I care about way, WAY more than I care about legal recognition of two men or two women who want to commit to their relationship and call it a marriage. Because I'm sensitive to the overpowering religious connotations of that word, I've advocated using a different term, but I've advocated using that term (civil union) for all - heterosexuals included.

Honest to Pete, have we not got bigger fish to fry than this?

You want to fight for marriage? Go after no-fault divorce laws. Go after serial polygamists. Go after adulterers. The problem with marriage today isn't gays, for crying out loud, people - it's a lack of commitment! Get your head screwed on straight.

And in the meantime, don't blithely assume I give more than a rat's hindquarters about your narrow view of relationships and the government's place in them.

Babble off.


At 12:11 p.m., Blogger Greg said...

"You want to fight for marriage? Go after no-fault divorce laws. Go after serial polygamists. Go after adulterers."

Don't worry B, those people will be the first against the wall when the socon revolutionary guard takes over. After that, it will be all Pat Boone radio and chocolate malteds with your best girl on a Saturday afternoon. It is going to be swell.

At 12:53 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Greg, just because I'm pissed off at the so-cons today doesn't mean I'm looking for unreformed lefties to dog-pile here. I'm just as pissed off with nanny-statist NDP commies-in-sheeps-clothing who would make the Liberals look like Libertarians and engage in mind-numbingly excessive governmental social engineering experiments with me and my family on the pretext of 'universal child care'.

Back off. I'm not in the frickin' mood.

At 4:17 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

That response to Greg was overly harsh, and I hope he'll accept my apologies. He was trying to be funny, not offensive, and I overreacted.

My bad. This is what I get for typing while angry.

At 4:47 p.m., Blogger Greg said...

I accept whole heartedly. You know I can't stay mad at you, ya big lug. ;)

At 4:57 p.m., Blogger Prolix said...

Ugh... get a room!

At 7:43 p.m., Blogger rick mcginnis said...


I feel moved to post on this one, mostly because I'm the only "so-con" that wanders around these parts unmolested. Here goes:

I can't speak for my fellow Pat Boone fans, but the argument against same-sex marriage is, as far as I can tell, essentially a rear-guard one. In real, legal terms, gay couples are as close to complete legal recognition of their status as they'll ever be. That's not where my argument begins, however...

As most of us know, our Constitution and judiciary, and particularly the Charter Of RIghts, is a city built on sand - the boundaries and topography are ever-changing, the rules subject to radical reinterpretation depending on where the political wind blows from. And since the political wind in Canada tends to blow from the liberal left more often than not, there's every reason to believe that anyone who wants to use legal recognition of same-sex marriage to bludgeon churches and the religious will have a lot more ammo to do so if the current bill passes.

I don't think I'm being paranoid - test cases are being attempted all the time, and even if activists can't get a ruling that forces Catholic churches (one example, but the foremost one) to recognize gay marriages, they'd settle for a punishment ruling, like depriving them of their tax-exempt status.

Inisiting that "marriage" be defined as the union of a man and a woman is sacred dogma for many "so-cons" - it's a legal bulwark for people like me. In essence, I see millions and millions of tax dollars wasted in legal battles, with a potential for wildly divisive social and cultural fallout in the process, and an outcome that won't be satisfying for anyone in the end.

Complete legal recognition and constitutional acceptance of same-sex unions? OK by me. If a gay couple wants to go to city hall - or a church that agrees to sacralize their union - and avail themselves of that legal indemnity, I'm not going to argue. I find it perplexing, however, that people who claim not to give a damn about mainstream religions like Catholicism will also complain that the unwillingness of those religions to bless their union wholeheartedly somehow infers "second class status" on their relationship. Why pine for acceptance from someone you insist you don't care about? It all seems a bit adolescent to me.

Like I said, it's just this one chocolate malted-drinking, cardigan-wearing popish zombie speaking here. Take from it what you will.

At 11:36 p.m., Blogger buckets said...

Rick, if there were any serious opportunity for the kinds of activist challenges that you envision and reject same-sex marriage to avoid, we'd already be seeing them from divorced people. Divorcees, after all, have been remarrying one another for decades now without anyone raising a peep about forcing the Catholic Church to allow the services. Why assume it would be any different with gays?

At 12:52 a.m., Blogger rick mcginnis said...

Because the Catholic Church - which is a lot more cunning and flexible than its adherent or detractors give it credit for - has found a way to accomadate divorced people, like my wife, for instance.

At 12:01 p.m., Blogger buckets said...

Well if they are clever to accommodate some, perhaps they can others, too.

But regardless of that, given that the ssm legislation that is now before the house recognizes the rights of churches not to marry gays if they don't want to, and that the supreme court has accepted that part of the legislation as constitutional, your concerns have been met as sufficiently as is reasonable.

In any case, it is hardly acceptable to deny a reasonable request by a group merely because you're afraid that some member of that group will make an unreasonable one.

Your argument doesn't strike me as any more compelling than the 'there-goes-the-neighbourhood' appeals of other so-cons.

At 1:00 p.m., Blogger rick mcginnis said...

Well, uncommitted and disorganized, you've pretty much managed to address my basic problem with same-sex marriage legislation by suggesting the Church "accomodate".

Perhaps there will be a time, in some distant future, when the Catholic Church will welcome gay unions. I have no powers of prognistication, so I can't confirm this outcome, but I can say that the current Church, and most of its members, don't wish to make this accomodation. Imagining - or wishing, or ultimately agitating - that the Church should do so is only proof of the worst case scenario, as far as I can see.

I find it rich that you can assert that the apparently bonafide constitutionality of the SSM legislation indemnifies churches and religious groups against pressure to sacralize same-sex union. As I said in my original post, the constitution, and most of Canadian governance, is treated as a sketch pad by the courts and every successive federal government. I somehow don't think that allowing Quebec the leeway it's had in language laws was supposed to result in Bill 101, and the often overzealous and - on one level, as arguable as any other, apparently - unconstitutional persecution of anglophones.

What will be, will be - I certainly I hope we're not back here a year or ten from now while I - and my fellow '50s revanchist "so-con" compatriots make an "I told you so" argument. But I'm not an optimist, so I'll see you then.

At 2:13 p.m., Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

For anyone who hasn't met Rick, as I have had the pleasure to do on a couple of occasions, he is probably the least Pat Boonish individual I could imagine. Rick would fit in perfectly on Queen St. W., or in the 'head shops' at Yonge and Dundas. So when I read his first comment on this thread, I actually laughed out loud.

Rick, one of the things that bothers me so much about this debate is that self-described social conservatives like you and Chris Taylor, formerly of Taylor & Company - to pick just a couple of examples - have to share a political label with the humourless right-wing nanny-statist bigots who want to put sodomy back into the criminal code. And I hear your concerns - religious freedom should be taken seriously.

But your argument boils down to this: we're fighting the civil marriage battle so we don't have to fight the religious marriage battle (at least not anytime soon). I understand that strategy, but in this case, I can't agree with it.

Like you, I believe that gays should be allowed to enter into a legal union with all the same rights and obligations as straights. Like you, I believe religious institutions should never be forced to solemnize any union that runs counter to their theology.

I just happen to think that the specious fight over civil marriage diminishes the legitimate concern over religious marriage.

At 5:02 p.m., Blogger buckets said...

Thanks for taking the time to respond, Rick.

Can I ask a hypothetical question? If an ironclad guarantee were possible that would safeguard churchs' right not to marry gays, would you support ssm?

At 7:14 p.m., Blogger rick mcginnis said...

I already do - and have said so publicly on many occasions. I just have no faith in what's obvious to me - and I think should be to most conservatives - is a judicial system prone to gerrymandering.

My stance isn't the most popular one in so-called "so-con" circles, but I think it's the most realistic one, overall, for expressing a realistic political approach to the issue. I, for one, don't see what's wrong with gay couples benefitting from the legal bulwark that straight couples take for granted. If they want to formalize their relationship, I don't think it's fair to deny them their rights - what I consider a sound conservative stance.

But I don't think that separating the religious from the civil definition of marriage in the eyes of the law perpetuates any kind of "separate but unequal" status, especially considering that many of the people agitating in this direction have precious little respect for mainstream churches to begin with...

As for, say, a gay Catholic who wants the Church to recognize his relationship, all I can offer is "Sorry, but you know the rules." Not to be crude, but you don't enter a horse in a dog show.

At 10:33 p.m., Blogger buckets said...

Thanks for taking the time to write. You take this seriously and I appreciate that.

I hope you can appreciate, however, what an awkward position you place someone like me in. I'm not religious or gay, but have friends who are one or the other.

I believe in religious freedom and exercise it by not being religious. I also believe in equal rights for gays, which brings me to support their right to marry. The question is, do I have to choose between protecting your religious freedom and protecting the equality of my gay friends?

And what are my choices? Until the recent court rulings, gays were not allowed to be married. Are religions going to be forced to perform such ceremonies? No, at least as far down the juridical road that I can see.

But does this not mean you're asking that the 1% (if that) chance that religions will be forced to marry gays outweigh the 100% chance that gays will not be able to marry?

At 1:02 a.m., Blogger rick mcginnis said...

What I don't understand is how this has been framed so stridently as an either/or equation.

It has, for sure, taken many years for gay men and women to get to the point where their unions - many as valid as those of many straight couples - are legally recognized. This is an unequivocable victory for them, and for our sense of ourselves as a fair society.

As far as I can tell, and as Damian has noted in another post, there's nothing in the CPC proposed amendments to the SSM bill that diminishes that. The only thing that the amendments propose is that religious groups - if they wish - are allowed to dissent from sacralizing these unions, and have the protection of the law from being forced to do otherwise. The battle, as far as I can tell, has been won.

But then there's the war, which seems to be to leave the sphere of government and law and enter a far more volatile one, where many Anglicans and United Church members - active and lapsed - seem insistent that their churches recognize their unions and sacralize them. In these two churches at least, the debate is more divisive because there are groups of clergy, both on the parish and senior level, who agree.

And then there's the Catholics, who have only a slim minority who propose this, who are perfectly aware that the Church is wholeheartedly opposed. Any attempt to force this on the Roman Catholic church would have to be revolutionary in nature, and the Church does not look on this kindly. They regard movements within protestant churches to recognize gay marriage as, in essence, like sitting in the huge, impregnable castle, watching the surrounding forts burn as the enemy approaches. They're sure they'll survive any siege - they've survived much more over two millenia - but it still makes them uneasy.

"So-cons" who oppose gay marriage are mostly responding to that part of your post that seems to hint that (and I think I'm reading this right) if the dissenting clauses for churches are made law, the legal definition of gay marriage will be somehow diminished. The SSM legislation currently proposed does nothing to effectively create - and let's use some more divisive language here, why don't we? - a "two-tier" definition of marriage, even with the proposed CPC amendments.

The problem, and I think this debate here encapsulates it perfectly, is that one side is saying "why won't you recognize our right to marry?", and the other side is saying "why do you need to force us to recognize your right to marry?", all while that right is being written into the letter of the law, irrespective of their argument.

The compromise that "so-cons" have come to - begrudgingly, perhaps, on the part of many of their varied ranks, and hardly unanimously - is that marriage is the word to be reserved for straight couples, and union is to be reserved for gay couples, while both are recognized as the same by the law. But that, it's obvious, is not enough.

One one level, this is all just semantic and maddening; on another, it's clearly a matter of supreme importance for both sides. Perhaps that's why, from day to day, I look at it as either completely absurd or of paramount importance.

And frankly, yes, I think that the 1% chance (on some days, I think it's higher, frankly) that churches might be forced by judicial activism to recognize gay unions is enough of a risk that I'm not willing to just let this debate slip by, at least without trying to pin down the exact definition of what both sides are arguing about.

At 9:41 a.m., Blogger buckets said...

Thanks for that, Rick. It is nice to see that internet discussion does not have to be name-calling and mutual recrimination all the time. Two morally serious people can disagree, have no serious prospect of changing the other's position, and nevertheless profit from honest discussion.

You raise the question why we can't have a 'two-tiered' system. (Or should we call it, to use another historically loaded term, a 'separate-but-equal' system?)

It is not clear that the Federal government has the constitutional authority to create such relationships. The constitution is clear that it has the sole right to define marriage, but most of the individual rights that make up the marriage package are provincial. (This is how Quebec was able to introduce civil unions on its own, for example: it took the rights that it authority over, bundled them together, and voilá.) Trying to create a federal civil union will surely result in a constitutional morasse as we can expect the provinces to challenge any federal encroachment on this front.

(It is not clear to me that the CPC is proposing a federal law at all--sometimes it seems that Harper is saying leave it to the provinces to create Quebec-style civil unions.)

But let's leave that all aside. Will your separate-but-equal system really be equal? And will it not open the door for the activists from _your_ side to argue for greater and greater inequality? This is not a hypothetical problem--the government of Alberta has just decided to throw millions away on a hopeless court challenge to ssm, largely (as is widely acknowledged) to appease a so-con element in the Conservative caucus. Surely we can expect the same dynamics to create as much inequality as is deemed possible.

At 10:24 a.m., Blogger rick mcginnis said...

Take a look at my post again - I wasn't proposing a "separate but equal" definition, I was just saying that there was nothing in the way the legislation was heading that would create such a system (or its "bad cousin", a "separate but unequal" definition) except if you somehow demanded that religious groups be compelled to go along for the ride.

You're right that the issue is made even muddier by the fact that the federal system is being used to argue something largely defined by provincial jurisdiction - another way that this debate breaks down into a frustrating impasse.

And you're right that the danger of legal activism from the "so-con" side is as likely as from the "progressive" side. Which is why it seems to me paramount that we articulate our definitions and boundaries now. Having said that, we're talking about Canada, where one government's definition of something (transfer payment ratios, health care funding percentages, the perpetuation of a hated federal sales taxes) can be neatly recast by another, with plenty of leeway in the constitution for such sleight of hand to justify their actions. Hell, the Liberals have been in power long enough to shift definitions during their own rule.

Getting back to your original question, though, I'm not proposing a separate but equal (or cynically "separate but unequal") definition. I'm saying that legally recognized, constitutionally protected civil unions are the baseline definition of what anyone - gay or straight - can expect from their government. This is the public, secular definition of what can be called "marriage", or "common law" or "civil unions" or grilled cheese or truck tires or whatever word you want to use. Whether it was legalized by a justice of the peace or a gay-positive United Church minister or a mail-order reverend or a dissenting liberal rabbi is immaterial - if the paperwork's been filled out, and the bureaucracy is satisfied that it fulfills their criterion, it is what it is.

But religious groups - Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baptists, Presbyterians, what have you - will call the unions that they sacralize, after filling out the necessary paperwork, a "marriage". That is their historical right, and they should be allowed to do so, without interference from the courts or the government.

Many religious and/or conservative people complain that marriage as an institution has been cheapened by shifting definitions, and by the considerable easing of divorce laws over the past few decades. I think they're right, but I don't think that agitating for withholding legal recognition of gay unions is the way to claw back what's been lost.

I'm a conservative - but I don't think that an excess of laws or government oversight will improve morality. I think that allowing people who care about morality to govern their lives, and work to inspire their community and others, is the best a conservative - and especially a religious conservative - can aspire to.

And if a gay couple decides to become an example for others, exercising fidelity and prudence and compassion, they should be encouraged to do so - who loses from this?

But if they're Catholic, for instance, they'll have to deal with the fact that their church will not bless their union within its four walls, no matter what "progressives", or even "reform minded" members of their own church wishes to see. This might be their own personal burden (you might even call it a "cross to bear"), but within the framework of the law, where pensions and inheritance and parental leave and insurance policies and hospital visitations and property rights are decided, they are the same - equal, not separate, not in the eyes of the law - as a straight couple who were married at Our Lady Of Perpetual Hope by Fr. Siepowicz.

I know that this doesn't seem satisfying for most people - from what you've written, uncommitted and disorganized, I don't think it is for you - but it's the most realistic way I can see of recognizing the civil claims of gay couples and religious groups at the same time.

I hope that's cleared at least a bit of this up - now please don't get me started on abortion.

At 11:55 a.m., Blogger buckets said...

Thanks, Rick, for your long thoughtful clarification. Sorry if I misunderstood your position.

In it you say:

But religious groups - Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Baptists, Presbyterians, what have you - will call the unions that they sacralize, after filling out the necessary paperwork, a "marriage". That is their historical right, and they should be allowed to do so, without interference from the courts or the government.

As a non-religious person I find this unacceptable. I am married and have been for almost 25 years. My marriage is a marriage without the blessing of any of those religions.

I'm also concerned as a historian. Marriage pre-exists all those religions. It is, in one form or another, an almost universal human institution.

Finally, I think you are being untrue to your own tradition for arguing such a thing. The Judaeo-Christian view has always been that God created marriage at the time of creation--millennia before either Judaism or Christianity existed. This is why Jews and Christians of various flavours are able to recognize outsiders' marriages as appropriate.

But leaving this aside, am I correct to say that your position is that civil unions be for everyone but marriage only for the religious? Doesn't that discriminate against the non-religious? (Some might prefer to be married but don't want to go to church to do it.)

And would this really solve the problem that you described above? What greater guarantees would there be in your system that activists wouldn't sue to force a church to marry people that it wouldn't want to?

At 7:33 p.m., Blogger John the Mad said...

Just a note to say that this is a very good exchange of views.

And Rick ... you are not the only social conservative in these here parts.

Uncommitted and Disorganized - The Catholic tradition does recognize marriages of other faiths and traditions, - if, and only if, they meet the pre-requisites of a Catholic marriage.

How come no one mentioned the bearing and nurturing of kids as the primary purpose of marriage? It is not all about the loving couple.

At 7:41 p.m., Blogger rick mcginnis said...

Un and Dis (you really need a shorter alias, my friend) -

Churches sacralize the marriage of agnostics and atheists all the time - I can't speak for other churches, but I know the Catholic Church doesn't love doing it (some conservative pastors try to draw a line, with limited success), yet the continue all the same, on the principle that, at the very least, they've made God present in the lives of the confused and disbelieving, who may discover His grace at some point later in life. In any case, it can't hurt, can it?

Once again, reality intrudes on theory, in other words. I'm trying to describe how reality intrudes on generalizations and broad definitions - "church", "the religious", "marriage" - and why it doesn't help arguments to arbitrarily corral debate, like I think you are when you try to boil down what I'm saying to an "either/or" position, a binary definition that does reality a disservice.

Yes, marriage pre-dates most currently existing religions, but religion (or spirituality, or faith, or "rank superstition" for all you dogmatic atheists out there) pre-dates marriage, in all likelihood. I'm taking an educated guess, mind you - I wasn't around at the time.

When religion and the state were one and the same - a situation that persisted until about two hundred years ago, roughly - there was no leeway to make this argument. Now that they co-exist, uneasily it would seem, we're forced to argue their respective bailiwicks in forums that ranges from polite discussion (I hope this qualifies) to bitter legal turf wars (most discussion of religion in the public sphere in the west) to outright war (the rest of the world).

Your marriage was blessed by the state a quarter century ago, at a time when gay marriage was well off the table, and when the church had made an uneasy truce with the state on the matter of turning a sacrament into a legal entity. That day is over, obviously, and so we're here, getting offended about comments and precedents that have roots going back decades, if not centuries.

Right now, yes, we're in a position of having to revisit that uneasy truce, and turn it into a starker statement of legal responsiblity, pulling it out of the grey area. I hate to say I told you so, but there were religious people decades ago who warned that this situation would come to pass, once the business of marriage had been turned into a notionally optional religious rite.

At 11:36 p.m., Blogger buckets said...

I think you are mischaracterizing the history of marriage, rick, but we can explore that another time. Keep well.


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