Monday, November 26, 2012

Mike Butler: Same-sex marriage in Canada

Canada’s 10 years of same-sex civil marriage has brought restrictions on free speech, restrictions on parental rights in education, and restrictions on religious institutions, according to Bradley Miller, who is an associate professor of law at the University of Western Ontario.

When same-sex relationships became the equivalent of traditional marriage, he wrote, a new orthodoxy was adopted. Therefore, “anyone who rejects the new orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and animus toward gays and lesbians.”

“Several provinces refused to allow civil marriage commissioners a right of conscience to refuse to preside over same-sex weddings, and demanded their resignations. At the same time, religious organizations, such as the Knights of Columbus, were fined for refusing to rent their facilities for post-wedding celebrations,” he wrote.

The change widely affected persons—including clergy—who wish to make public arguments about human sexuality. Many of those who have persisted in voicing their dissent have been subjected to investigations by human rights commissions and (in some cases) proceedings before human rights tribunals.

“Those who are poor, poorly educated, and without institutional affiliation have been particularly easy targets—anti-discrimination laws are not always applied evenly. Some have been ordered to pay fines, make apologies, and undertake never to speak publicly on such matters again. Targets have included individuals writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and ministers of small congregations of Christians. A Catholic bishop faced two complaints—both eventually withdrawn—prompted by comments he made in a pastoral letter about marriage,” he wrote.

In Canada, the debate over how to cast same-sex marriage in the classroom was much like the debate over the place of sex education in schools, and of governmental pretensions to exercise primary authority over children.

“The new curricula are permeated by positive references to same-sex marriage, not just in one discipline but in all. Faced with this strategy of diffusion, the only parental defence is to remove one’s children from the public school system entirely. Courts have been unsympathetic to parental objections: if parents are clinging to outdated bigotries, then children must bear the burden of “cognitive dissonance”—they must absorb conflicting things from home and school while school tries to win out,” he wrote.

Did legislated same-sex marriage open the way for demands from polygamist or polyamorist groups?

One prominent polygamist community in British Columbia publicly proclaimed that there was no principled basis for the state’s continued criminalization of polygamy. A trial court in British Columbia upheld the criminal prohibition of polygamy, but on a narrow basis that defined polygamy as multiple, concurrent civil marriages. The court did not address the phenomenon of multiple common-law marriages.

There are approximately 21,000 married same-sex couples in Canada, out of 6.29 million married couples. Same-sex couples (married and unmarried) constitute 0.8 percent of all couples in Canada; 9.4 percent of the 64,575 same-sex couples (including common-law and married) have children in the home, and 80 percent of these are lesbian couples. By contrast, 47.2 percent of heterosexual couples have children in the home.

Figures from New Zealand’s 2006 census show that same-sex couples make up fewer than 1 percent of all couples in New Zealand. Labour MP Louisa Wall's Marriage (Definition of Marriage Bill) Amendment Act passed its first reading by 80 votes to 40, and is at the select committee stage.

Same-Sex Marriage Ten Years On: Lessons from Canada, Bradley Miller,

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