Distinguished Albertan Beverly Smith calls for equal marriage at the marriage committee hearings in Edmonton, Alberta (April 2, 2003)

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"I am a member of a mainstream church and have been all my life. And I am a student of the Bible. The message I get from that book is summarized in the entreaty Love one another. If we are Christian and often those who object to gay marriage are, we must recognize that Jesus summarized his philosophy many times in one word The greatest of these is love."
Beverly Smith

 

 

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"When we speak of marriage, let's be aware of the intent of what is worth upholding and surely it is commitment, permanence and love. And that is not threatened by gay marriage."
Beverly Smith

 

 

 

 

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Legal - Canada

April 2, 2003

Distinguished Albertan advocate for women & families calls for equal marriage
Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal Recipient

The following is the complete text prepared by Beverly Smith for her April 2 testimony in Edmonton (Alberta) at parliament's travelling Justice and Human Rights Committee marriage hearings. The actual presentation was abbreviated to fit within the time allotted.


 

My name is Beverley Smith and I am a women's rights activist and school teacher in Calgary. I have worked for many years to address equality issues and though I am not gay, I have given much thought to movements for equal rights. I would like to speak to you today about equal rights for same-sex marriage.

The issue of same-sex marriage is clouded by emotion and most people have already taken a stand on it and are simply seeking a chance to express the opinion. I must admit that I have changed my thinking on it over the years so openness to reassess is something I value.

I would like to address the issue in terms of what it is about, which is the right to marry, and also in terms of what it is not about - which often gets in the way of the discussion.

Beverly Smith is the author of several books including a study of the women's movement called Throwing out the Baby with the Bathwater and an academic survey of parenting styles and effects entitled Watch Me, Mama! Watch Me, Dad! Ms. Smith has appeared at several federal and provincial hearings on issues related to taxation, children, and youth justice. Ms. Smith was named National President of Kids First Parent Association for 2002-2003 and she is the recipient of many awards including: the Queens Golden Jubilee Medal (2003), Calgarian of the Year by Calgary Business Magazine (1999).

Legal commitment

First of all - this is mainly about two adults who want to take on the legal responsibility of marriage, who want to express publicly a commitment to each other for life, and who want this commitment to be one they are socially obliged to live up to. It is about a legal designation to recognize a promise they want to make. I am married and I made the promise which I took very seriously, even in tears, " in sickness, and in health, for better or for worse, as long as we both shall live"

Mine is a heterosexual marriage, and traditional, but the vows we made were acts of courage for no one knows what lies ahead. Our vows simply said that what we will face, we will face together, come what may. Same-sex couples are asking if they could make that same vow to each other. I do not see that as threatening.

Financial commitment

Second, this is about money not sex. In the law marriage is the union of a man and a woman but actually, physical union is not the determiner of it. Whether or not a couple is sexually active is not grounds for divorce and if the couple is still living under the same roof and eating and shopping together it is deemed they are still married, even if they sleep separately. So the law does not in fact define marriage based on sexual activity. The law does however require certain financial consequences of marriage. Some may think that wanting to be married means you are seeking some financial advantage but actually in present law, marriage is more penalized than rewarded financially. Yet gays want it. I do not see that as threatening.

A couple that is dating and living together is taxed quite differently from a married couple. Marriage creates an obligation for spousal support, even after the marriage ends. There is a sharing of standard of living and some legal responsibility for joint debts. The married couple can only deduct costs of one residence not two, and only costs of child-care off the lower-earning spouse, not both being able to claim costs as single parents.

So what we are seeing is that marriage is both a legal commitment and a financial arrangement, both of which are somewhat onerous in fact, at least serious and certainly rarely convenient. And we are here seeing that some gay couples want into this arrangement. I do not see that as threatening.

The sexual fixation of opponents to equality

I would like to address other things that often are cited as relevant to the discussion which I think are not at the core of the matter at all.

First, this is not about the revulsion some feel to the idea of gay sex. Revulsion is a strong sentiment, probably undeniable, but truth be told most of us disagree on what is appealing in sexual attractiveness of others anyway, and most children express a revulsion at the idea of their own parents having sex. It is not about revulsion.

Second this is not about opening up the floodgates to other types of marriage such as polygamy. Polygamy historically has been a tradition in some cultures where the will of one of the parties, usually the woman, was completely discounted. We are not talking about forcing anyone here. We are talking about two adults who want to make a public commitment, voluntarily and exclusively to each other.

Spiritual message is one of love

Third, this is not about religion. I am a member of a mainstream church and have been all my life. And I am a student of the Bible. The message I get from that book is summarized in the entreaty 'Love one another'. If we are Christian and often those who object to gay marriage are, we must recognize that Jesus summarized his philosophy many times in one word ' The greatest of these is love" I find it hard to see how love between two people of the same sex is against that entreaty for the entreaty had no gender to it.

I think it is important to remember that Jesus had 12 male disciples one of whom was referred to as 'the disciple Jesus loved'. I am not suggesting Jesus was gay, but I am suggesting that Jesus loved all people, male and female and what we are talking about here is love and commitment. "For this reason shall a man leave his parents and cleave unto his wife and the two shall become one flesh" is cited. But let us look at the intent here - the intensity of the commitment to the new person and the self-sacrifice involved in it. There are also passages in the Bible that speak against any marriage, where the apostle Paul wanted men to not marry because marriage was a sign of weakness. So I think that for me at least the Bible shows a number of personal views of how best to have a religious life, with the focus being on the goal itself - living a life of service to others and of love to others. Some interpret this within marriage and some not. But the Bible does not actually take sides in that regard.

Nurture

Fourth, this is not about corrupting youth. I am a school teacher and I can assure you that in the schools where I teach it is not cool to be gay. I do whatever I can to discourage gay-bashing, kids insulting each other by calling each other gay, but I can assure you that there is no danger from what I have seen that treating gays with dignity will make people want to be gay. I am pleased to say that over the 30 years that I have been working with children something wonderful has been happening though in the classroom about equality of minority groups. Many of the classes I teach have students from different races and cultures and the climate for them is much much more accepting than it was when I was in school in the fifties. Our school literature has changed to remove insulting references to those of different skin color and different language and do you know what? Kids accept this equality very easily. The Russian child and the Polish child and the African child really do play together very well and barely notice each other's difference. And that is the wave of the future . We can make it so for gays too.

Nature

This is also not about going against nature. The argument that only heterosexual relationships are natural is biologically supported by many but not all animal species. And I think that those who are strongly heterosexual can rest secure knowing that they are indeed right- that most people are drawn to a person of the opposite sex and that is their nature to be so drawn. You can't go against your nature in how you feel . But by the same token, we should admit that a very small minority of people do not have that same biological urge apparently, and for them it is natural to feel drawn to someone of the same sex. I am not part of that drive, and I don't feel it personally, but I can admit that for them it does exist. The fact that it is so very natural for most of us to feel differently may console us because the minority's attractions pose no threat to us - they can't change our nature just as we are unlikely to change theirs. So this is not about convincing people to become gay, about making youth gay, about changing fundamental natures of a person- because if we believe these attractions we feel are natural and ingrained, so they are. And we need not fear.

Some may fear that children would be shocked at having gay parents or seeing gay sex but let's remember that it is offensive to have any kids see the sex act and we should not assume gays would expose children to it any more than heterosexual parents do. Private acts will remain private acts and were they not, there are other areas of the law that deal with them.

Tradition

And last, this is not a threat to tradition. Just as it is wrong to hold onto any idea just because it is old, for if that were true we would never have tried using an airplane, it is also wrong to reject any idea just because it is old. We need not endorse a new idea as a fad. There are some tried and true values we must never leave. But if I serve my family Chinese pork at a family dinner that is a departure from turkey, but it maintains the tradition of the family dinner. When we speak of marriage, let's be aware of the intent of what is worth upholding and surely it is commitment, permanence and love. And that is not threatened by gay marriage.

One of my children observed to me an irony some years ago and I thought about it and pass it along now because I have come to believe it also. Gay marriage endorses tradition. Gays simply want in. They want to be part of our tradition of the burden, the cost, the financial responsibility, the public promise of a lifetime commitment to someone else. They are not rejecting tradition. They are endorsing it.

Nowadays many young people are hesitant to make the marriage commitment and rates of common-law unions are skyrocketing. Many marriages end in divorce, as many as one in three by latest statistics. For many of us in the heterosexual community, it is sad to see the lack of permanent commitment people feel able to make in this troubled world. And I find it kind of heartening to see this one small group wanting to take that risk, to express a promise of forever being by each other's side, through all life's struggles. Gays want to be part of what anchors society when they want into marriage.

Democratic equality and freedom

Finally, in a democracy, we have the opportunity to do what is fair, to treat well not just those who agree with us but those who don't. We defend not just the right of people to act as we do but their right to act differently and where no one is harmed to have the freedom to practice their beliefs, their religion, their political views. This is not about us agreeing with their ideas. It is about our defending their right to have them.

Canada has a tradition of being one of the first off the mark to extend equal rights to others. We gave women the vote way before many other nations. We have a health care system that is the envy of most nations since we ensure the poor do not suffer illness more severely because of their poverty. Canada is the right place to ask for openness to defining what love and commitment are - to allowing that small group of gays who want it, to also make a marriage commitment to each other.

Beverley Smith
Calgary

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