“Equality, dignity and respect”

09.16.03

The Liberal government escaped full-scale embarrassment today when a motion by the Canadian Alliance to reaffirm the definition of marriage as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” was narrowly defeated in parliament:

The Canadian Alliance’s motion asking MPs to reaffirm the heterosexual definition of marriage was defeated by a vote of 137 to 132 Tuesday night.

[ . . . ]

Tuesday’s motion was similar to one passed by a vote of 216 to 55 by the House in 1999, in which many Liberals voted to preserve the traditional definition of marriage.

Because of the 1999 vote, the Alliance succeeded in embarrassing the Liberals who voted against today, but in favour of the similar motion only four years ago. But their hopes of pre-empting the Liberals’ planned vote on extending marriage rights to gays, and embarrassing the government even further, were dashed.

So what’s changed in 4 years? Has society become that much more in tune with human rights? Or did the recent court decisions in Ontario and B.C. act as catalysts for change? Either way, Martin Cauchon is right:

“I believe it is about equality, dignity and respect for all Canadians,” said Cauchon.

“We are at a historic moment in time. We have the opportunity to challenge our simple assumptions and beliefs and do what is right in terms of equality,” he added.

The defeat of today’s Alliance motion, of course, doesn’t mean that the Liberal motion to legalize gay marriage will pass. The tiny margin indicates that it’s a contentious topic that isn’t going to be clearly resolved anytime soon. It’s likely to become an election issue, which, given the Liberals’ virtual assurance of getting into power, will probably be used as leverage to weaken their majority and strengthen the religious right.

But besides all the politics, we have to remember that a society makes progress by recognizing and correcting past and present wrongs. “It’s always been that way” is a lousy argument for the status quo, if we’re slowly recognizing that the status quo denies basic rights to a minority population. “My religion says so” is even worse. These are just excuses that the majority likes to use in order to keep the minority from attaining rights, and we should look back in shame at how long it took us to recognize that when it came to the rights of women, or people with different skin colours.

You can see how your local MP voted on today’s motion here.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Eric 09.17.03 at 7:39 AM

I’m curious to know what people think of those that want to make religious preaching against homosexuality a hate law. Does this violate freedom of speech and religion, or is it justified?

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2 Jonny 09.17.03 at 4:11 PM

Eric,

Freedom of speech is a right. Now, at the basis of any legal system are rules, rights and responsibilities.

That is to say the legal system sets up the rules governing our rights and our responsibilities under those rules. Without responsibility there can be no rights.

Thus, if you use your “right to freedom of speech” irresponsibly ie. hate speech, then you will lose it.

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3 segacs 09.17.03 at 5:59 PM

Um, not exactly. The hate speech laws specify religion as a legitimate defense to charges of incitement of hatred. Read the criminal code. That means that a minister preaching that gay marriage is against their religion cannot be prosecuted for hate speech.

That being said, people have a choice as to whether they want to follow a religion or a religious leader that has those kinds of views. Some do, some don’t. It’s all part of freedom of religion (or, its flip side, freedom from religion).

That’s the status quo. It’s what is. Now the question becomes, is this how it should be? Should a person be able to justify incitement of hatred by cloaking it in religion? My sense is no. But that’s a debate for another place and time.

A Catholic priest can stand up and say that divorce is wrong, and divorced people shouldn’t remarry. But Canadian civil law still gives marriage rights to divorcés. Similarly, my rabbi might stand up in synagogue and say that it’s wrong to eat pork or shellfish, or drive on the Sabbath. But if Canadian law started banning ribs or lobster dinners, or arresting anyone driving on Saturdays, then that’s not right. A religious Jew is free to follow those laws, and anyone else who is not a religious Jew is free FROM following those laws.

That brings us to the original question of whether it should be hate speech to preach against gay marriage. And for reference, I’d ask you whether you think it’s hateful for a religious leader to preach against allowing women, or black people, to vote? Is it hateful for a religious leader to preach against allowing Jews to immigrate? This becomes a moral question, not a legal one. In all those cases, the religious leaders are not promoting harm or violence against a specific group, but are expressing an opinion that we would find distasteful and unpopular. Should the preacher be thrown in jail? Absolutely not, unless they stand up and actually incite hatred against the group itself (i.e. a religious person standing at a pulpit should not be permitted to shout “Kill the Jews” or “Kill the Muslims”). But morally, I would hope that a person with a conscience would decide not to follow the teachings of such a narrow-minded religious leader. Unfortunately, many do.

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4 segacs 09.17.03 at 6:04 PM

I assume you’ll be following the results of today’s vote in parliament about hate legislation being extended to gays and lesbians.

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5 Sigivald 09.17.03 at 6:26 PM

I am by no means opposed to gay marriage (or, for those with religious qualms, call it civil unions or whatever, doesn’t matter), but I’m not at all sure that “being married (in a way recognised by the state)” is a basic right.

Perhaps this is because I’m not sure the state should recognise marriages at all (for anyone), as such.

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6 David H 09.17.03 at 7:59 PM

Thus spaketh Jonny:

“Thus, if you use your “right to freedom of speech” irresponsibly ie. hate speech, then you will lose it.”

You have the right to not be killed by someone who doesn’t like you. If you use that right irresponsibly (eg. stand in a street and talk about how black people should go back to Africa) do you lose that right?

Of course not, thats the definition of a right. You take away privileges, not rights. If you say that a given “right” can be arbitrarily taken away, then it is hardly a right. Its a privilege, and a tenuous one at that.

Personally, I believe that free speech is a right. Other people (notably many military dictators and palestinian activists) consider free speech to be a privilege, granted only to those who toe the party line.

I guess its up to everyone to make their own decision in that regard.

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7 segacs 09.17.03 at 8:12 PM

Close, but there are exceptions, David. You have the right to freedom, but you get that taken away from you if you go out and kill someone and get put in jail. There are ways that people can lose certain rights.

But someone convicted of hate crimes doesn’t lose the right to speak freely about other things. They do have to face the consequences of their crime though.

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8 Eric 09.17.03 at 10:57 PM

I agree with David on this one. If Freedom of Speech is a right, then it can’t be arbitrarily taken away because we don’t think what’s being said is “responsible”. The very reason Freedom of Speech exists is to make sure this sort of action doesn’t happen. Sari mentioned how there are already limitations on freedom of speech since you can’t yell fire in a crowded theatre or hire a contract killer. Neither of these have anything to do with Freedom of Speech however. Freedom of Speech doesn’t say you can say anything in any place at any time. Freedom of Speech says that a person is entitled to speak his/her opinion in a public forum without being attacked or thrown in jail. Yelling fire in a theatre or hiring a contract killer is not stating one’s opinion in a public forum, so it’s irrelevant to Freedom of Speech. Likewise, perjury couldn’t be defended by freedom of speech. People seem to think that a person’s Freedom of Speech should be curbed when people say things that are offensive or hateful. But if that were the case, then what sort of speech exactly is the right to free speech protecting? People aren’t trying to silence others for talking about pizza toppings or saving the whales. The speech no one finds “irresponsible” isn’t the speech that needs to be protected. The downsides of Freedom of Speech are far superior to the downsides of not having free speech, and as soon as you introduce Hate Speech Laws, you no longer have freedom of speech.

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