Not Simply Divine.  Human rights and same-sex marriage (Part three) by R. Douglas Elliott












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Advocacy News - Not Simply Divine - Gays versus God?

May 7, 2021

Gays versus God?
Part three of Not Simply Divine

By R. Douglas Elliott,* B.A., J.D. 

Not Simply Divine
Human rights and
same-sex marriage
Part one
Part three
Gays versus God?
Presented by R. Douglas Elliott
Equality Forum,Philadelphia, 2005

Is God against human rights?

Do gay rights mean the end of religious freedom?

The struggle over lesbian and gay equality has been characterized by Justice Scalia as a “culture war” between gay rights groups and religious organizations. There can be no doubt that major faith based organizations have been among the most vocal opponents of gay and lesbian equality, and of same-sex marriage. Despite their vigorous attacks on lesbian and gay equality, they quite perversely seek to portray themselves as the victims of a war on their own rights on God.

The language used by even our more mainstream religious opponents is sometimes exceptionally offensive. The Vatican describes legal recognition of same-sex relationships as the “legalization of evil.”[40]

Unfortunately, appeals to God’s will have a sorry history in supporting discrimination, including discrimination in marriRDPs must not be used to as a separate regime for gays and lesbians.  CLICK to read an editorial written by Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnellage. In the lower court’s ruling in Loving, dealing with interracial marriage bans, the Court invoked religion and natural law in the following language:[41]

Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents.  And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.

Some day, the religious arguments against same-sex marriage, advanced with such fervor today, will sound just as ridiculous.

It is a source of great sadness to me that people of faith are among the most vocal opponents of my human rights. Like Dr. King, Bishop Tutu, and Mahatma Ghandi, there are many persons whose faith inspires them to support human rights. In the case I won, the two couples were married in the presence of their families and friends in a Christian church, just like millions of Canadians before them.

This is not really a new debate. Ever since the concept of inalienable human rights emerged in the 18th century, there have been three principal schools of thought that continue to attract support today.

There are those who do not support the concept of human rights. Some do so because they believe the law mast always reflect the will of the majority, without regard to what Edmund Burke referred to as the “tyranny of the majority.” However, many opponents of human rights do not rest their case on the will of the majority, unless that majority happens to be comprised of their co-religionists. Their opposition to Same-sex marriage: separation of church and statehuman rights is based on their religious belief that any such rights are morally relative, because the state ultimately should be governed by the laws of God and not the laws of men. That is the situation in Iran and other states under Islamic law today. However, it also appears to be the position of former Chief Justice Moore of Alabama, the “Ten Commandments judge,” and of Dr. Dobson of “Focus on the Family.” Senator Frist and Dr. Dobson and their ilk claim to be concerned with protecting freedom of religion, but what they really propound is the Puritan concept of salvation of the nation through the state enforced religion. Of course, this runs contrary to centuries of rich American constitutional jurisprudence. For Dobson and others, however, religious freedom seems to mean that godliness trumps equality rights. 

Of course, even before the Bill of Rights, William Penn and his Quakers came to Pennsylvania to escape just such a system of state religion. The Quakers had been badly persecuted in England, including a refusal by the state to recognize the legal validity of unique Quaker marriages. Despite his desire to establish a godly colony, Penn wrote "no Men. . . hath Power or authority to rule over Men's Consciences in Religious matters."

On the opposite pole of this ancient debate, there are those who see organized religion as the enemy of human rights. This was the philosophy of the French Revolution that replaced churches with Temples of Reason. Resenting the state’s role in enforcing Church doctrine, and under the leadership of a gay aristocrat, they repealed French sodomy laws and replaced religious marriage with purely civil marriage. In their view, equality rights had to trump religious freedom.   

There lies a third way between these polar opposites.

In the western world, we live in secular democracies. Sadly, secularism has become a dirty word in the eyes of some Christians. But what is the alternative? Theocracy? Millions of humans have been tortured and killed in the name of God. The combination of religious passion and state power has a Spiritual abuse by the Catholic Churchtendency to tyranny and great evil. The result can be disastrous for the church and state alike. In the province of Québec in the 1950’s, for example, the Catholic Church hierarchy was in league with the authoritarian regime of the Union Nationale government. The result was persecution of religious minorities that was only ended by a series of court rulings, including a damages judgment against the Premier himself. The long-term legacy of this intrusion into the political sphere for the Catholic Church has been a fall from grace with the population from which it has never fully recovered. 

In a secular democracy, there need be no conflict between being a person of faith and having a commitment to human rights. It was sincere Christian faith that motivated the English anti-slavery movement, for example. The American model is a system that respects religion but preserves a “wall of separation between Church and state”, as Jefferson noted in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. America’s founding fathers rejected the French model of suppressing religion to advance equality. They asserted that a commitment to equality could co-exist with faith, and indeed take inspiration from it.

Long ago, John Adams wrote these moving words:[42]

The doctrine of human equality is founded entirely in the Christian doctrine that we are all children of the same Father, all accountable to Him for our conduct to one another, all equally bound to respect each other’s self love.

The idea of a secular democracy that ensures fundamental respect for freedom of religion and equality for all was America’s great gift to the world. However, nowhere in the Western world is that precious idea under greater attack than right here. There are still Christians like John Adams in this country, but their voices have been drowned out by the shrill cries of the religious right.

Under the guise of religious freedom, and wrapped in the flag of patriotism, Christian fundamentalists have embarked on a second American Revolution. This revolution seeks to destroy the rule of law and to restore religious tyranny in a way that has not been seen since the Puritans burned witches at the stake. Knowing that the constitution protects Jesusland takes aim at CanadaAmericans from oppression, they have begun the process of amending constitutions to imbed their religious beliefs into them, as seen in the 22 recent amendments taking away the rights of gay and lesbian Americans. Knowing that an independent judiciary is the front line of defence of minority rights, they have engaged in a sustained attack on the rule of law and the very legitimacy of the courts, an attack unprecedented in American history. Judges are not the handmaidens of the legislature or of the president, except in dictatorships. Still less should they be enforcing God’s will, as they understand it. As for America’s political leaders, it sometimes seems as though they believe that they did not take an oath on the Bible to uphold the constitution, but rather took an oath on the constitution to uphold the Bible.

This internal revolution poses a threat to the worldwide gay and lesbian community. The religious right in the USA has intervened heavily in the Canadian same sex marriage debate, thus far to little effect.  These American forces have Purging toxic religion in Canada - gay marriage exposes faith-based bigotryalso formed an unholy alliance with Islamic states and the Vatican to impose religious limits on the development of international human rights. The threat that this religious extremism and intolerance poses to the rights of gays and lesbians everywhere in the world cannot be over stated. We can only hope that Americans will rally to successfully defend this effort to undermine their great democracy.


Marriage for same-sex couples is part of a trend that has been gaining momentum in all Western democracies. It is a reality in two European countries, and is likely to become a reality in all states that are members of the European Union. It has become a legal reality in Canada, a country with which the United States has close historical, cultural and commercial ties. Moreover, American same-sex couples have been legally married in Canada, just as heterosexual couples have been doing at Niagara Falls and elsewhere for years.

Religious coalition affirms gay marriageFreedom is our birthright as humans, and equality is not contingent on any religious leader’s approval. The international movement for same-sex marriage has served as a flashpoint between proponents of equality and human rights, and advocates of salvation through theocracy. The struggle for the hearts and minds of our fellow human beings will continue. But in times of trouble, we can comfort ourselves in the lessons of history that are so close to the heart of Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love. We, the people, long to be free. Tyranny never lasts forever.   

* Douglas Elliott is a partner with Roy Elliott Kim O’Connor LLP, Toronto, Ontario, Canada ( He is also the President of the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association (
[40] Vatican, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations Regarding Proposals to Give Legal Recognition to Unions Between Homosexual Persons¸ avail. at; reprinted in NY Times, July 31, 2021.
[41] Loving v Virginia, 206 Va. 924 rev’d 388 U.S. 1 (1967).
[42] David McCullough, “John Adams”, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2001, p.619

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