For Canada, today (June 28, 2005) can be one of two things.
It can either be an affirmation of Canada’s commitment to freedom and equality for all of its citizens (regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation), or it can be a signal that we need to go back to the drawing board. Either way, a moment of truth is upon us.
Long before the issue began to works its way through the Supreme Court of Canada, this issue has been contentious and divisive. On one side of the debate are political and social progressives, who believe that same sex marriage represents an equality for gays and lesbians that they have never before possessed. On the other side are a collection of religious groups and political conservatives who oppose the “redefinition of traditional marriage”. They argue that changing the legal definition of marriage is a direct affront to the traditions this country was founded upon.
But in reality, what are the traditions this country was founded upon? Some people say “Christianity” and others say “freedom”. I can’t truthfully speak for anyone on this particular matter. I can, however, speak for myself.
In my opinion, Canada was founded under the principle of responsible government. Over time, however, we have added many traditions around this simple idea to create the “Canadian tradition”. With the advent of Canadian Multiculturalism, one of the traditions Canada was founded upon became the idea of a nation for all people. Inevitably, the time has come that we recognize that this moves beyond the simplicity of religion and ethnicity. In order to be a nation for all people, we must also recognize and legitimize the differences in people’s sexual orientation.
So, where in this does same sex marriage fit? That’s a bit of a complex question.
There are a number of issues at play with same sex marriage, and one of them certainly is money. There is no reason why homosexual couples should not be entitled to the same legal protections and benefits offered to heterosexual couples, and one of these ideas is the civil marriage – a marriage in the eyes of the state, as opposed to only the eyes of god.
Perhaps a greater issue at play with same sex marriage is the issue of legitimization. Until the government of Canada has allowed same sex marriage, it has not yet recognized the legitimacy of homosexual relationships, and thus has not yet recognized the legitimacy of homosexuals themselves.
Until this has happened, how can we claim that homosexuals are fully a part of Canadian society? It’s a simple answer: we can’t. And the very idea of trying to avoid this is preposterous – whether we like it or not, homosexuals are a part of Canadian society, and that isn’t going to change.
Critics can call same sex marriage whatever they want. They can call it “social engineering”, but other attempts at “social engineering” have historically been at least modest successes. Perhaps the most notable example of this is the struggle for black civil rights in the United States. Which also brings up the point that anyone who believes that same-sex marriage will miraculously usher in a new age of tolerance and harmony is incredibly naïve. However, everything has to start somewhere.
Critics can also claim that same sex marriage is “undemocratic”. However, even if they could demonstrate that a significant majority of Canadians were opposed to same sex marriage, they would still be wrong. One of the hallmarks of a democratic society is found in the way that it protects the rights and interests of all its citizens, regardless of whether or not they belong to a “minority”. Furthermore, anyone who doesn’t realize that the majority has become a mythical, nonexistent creature in Canada has failed to recognize the changing face of Canada.
Critics can also claim that same sex marriage poses a threat to religious freedom. While this argument may be the most compelling and most valid they have proposed, we must also realize that same sex marriage has provided us with a unique opportunity to separate church and state. After all, civil counselors are not religious officials. They have the capacity to marry couples in the eyes of the state, but not in the eyes of god – just as religious officials have the power to marry couples in the eyes of god, but not in the eyes of the state.
Today, Canada will make a choice. It will either take a step forward toward equality amongst all of its citizens, or it will take a step back. Either way, Canada’s journey will continue.