Saskatchewan's New Green Alliance:  Same-sex marriage is a question of fairness and dignity

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Giving same sex couples the same range of choices as opposite sex couples is a simple question of fairness and human dignity. Either this government supports equality or it does not."
Saskatchewan New Green Alliance Party

 

 

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"For Parliament to legislate an opposite sex requirement for marriage would violate the equality principles of Canada’s constitution and serve only to demean the relationships of lesbian and gay couples."
Saskatchewan New Green Alliance Party

 

 

 

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"If Parliament moves to allow gays and lesbians legal access to civil marriage, religions will continue to enjoy the freedom to perform marriage ceremonies as they see fit and for whomever they choose. This religious freedom is clearly protected in law, and entrenched in the constitution."
Saskatchewan New Green Alliance Party

 

 

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"When all citizens are treated fairly and their dignity is affirmed, society can only be enhanced. We call upon the committee to support equality and not seek to deny it. "
Saskatchewan New Green Alliance Party

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Legal - Canada

April 9, 2003

A question of fairness and dignity
Saskatchewan New Green Alliance Party

The following is the brief sent by the Saskatchewan New Green Alliance Party to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights (April 3, 2003).

Introduction

The Saskatchewan New Green Alliance urges that the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights recommend that the federal government bring forward legislation to give same sex couples the legal capacity to marry. As noted in the committee’s November 2002 discussion paper, “Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions”, this is the only option that will fully address equality concerns.

Giving same sex couples the same range of choices as opposite sex couples is a simple question of fairness and human dignity. Either this government supports equality or it does not. For this committee to recommend that same sex couples be barred from civil marriage or be forced to accept some alternative registration scheme is to recommend the continuation of discrimination, unfairness, and inequality… hardly the values of a free and just society

About the Saskatchewan New Green Alliance

Environmental and social justice activists formed the New Green Alliance in 1998. The members of the New Green Alliance believe in the principles of ecological wisdom; social and economic justice; participatory democracy; personal, social and global responsibility; community based Economics; cooperation and mutual aid; respect for diversity; peace and non-violence; and decentralization. We have members throughout Saskatchewan.

At our convention in 2001, our party passed a resolution in support of the legalization of gay marriages in Saskatchewan, Canada, and elsewhere. Previously, in 1996, our federal counterpart, the Green Party of Canada, passed a resolution calling for federal legislation that recognizes gay and lesbian marriages and common law relationships.

Discussion Paper Options

The committee has three possible approaches for providing legal recognition of same sex unions as set out in the discussion paper:

  1. Marriage could remain an opposite sex institution, either by legislating an opposite sex requirement for marriage, or by restating the opposite sex meaning of marriage in the preamble of a new piece of legislation that would create an equivalent to marriage for federal purposes (either civil union or domestic partnership) for other conjugal relationships; or
  2. Marriage could be changed to also include same sex couples by legislating to give same sex couples the legal capacity to marry; or
  3. With cooperation of the provinces and territories, Parliament could leave marriage to the religions by removing all federal references to marriage, and replacing them by a neutral registration system for all conjugal relationships, leaving marriage exclusively to individuals and their religious institutions.

The New Green Alliance supports legislating to give same sex couples the legal capacity to marry. As previously stated, this option is the only one that would fully address equality concerns.

The remaining options are flawed. They would not promote equality.

For Parliament to legislate an opposite sex requirement for marriage would violate the equality principles of Canada’s constitution and serve only to demean the relationships of lesbian and gay couples. Even the use of the notwithstanding clause (to avoid the inevitable striking down of such a piece of legislation) would only serve to delay the issue for five years, when the use of the clause requires review. Canada’s Parliament should not seriously consider holding its hands over its ears and saying to equality seeking Canadians “Sorry, we can’t hear you… notwithstanding clause… come back in five years.”

To create some alternative registration scheme says to lesbian and gay Canadians “Welcome aboard, now get to the back of the bus.” Creating such a civil registration scheme would not change the current situation of including same sex couples under common-law status while still prohibiting them from access to civil marriage. As Justice Laforme noted on page 103 of the recent Ontario equal marriage decision:

"One cannot avoid the conclusion that offering benefits to gay and lesbian partners under a different scheme from heterosexual partners is a version of the separate but equal doctrine. That appalling doctrine must not be resuscitated in Canada four decades after its much heralded death in the United States.”

Clearly alternative partnership registration would serve only to perpetuate a second-class status for lesbian and gay couples.

The final option of abolishing civil marriage and leaving marriage to religions would be a heavy-handed and unwieldy solution. While this option would allow the growing number of religions and congregations that wanted to perform marriages for same sex couples the freedom to do so, it would also serve to deny marriage to all Canadians who wanted a civil marriage instead of a religious one. Choosing to expand discrimination to include secular Canadians should not be the government response to inequality. Since the current common law definition of marriage would remain, lesbian and gay Canadians would continue to be subjected to the burden of seeking judicial redress because of the federal abdication of responsibility.

Religious Freedom

Some opponents of equal access to civil marriage for same sex couples argue that religious freedom will be restricted and that the government could dictate to churches that they must perform marriage ceremonies for gay and lesbian couples. The Canada Family Action Coalition’s February 20, 2003 presentation asked:

“If the definition of marriage is legally altered, how can anyone justly be given exemption from adhering to the new law? Pastors, religions, educators, parents, media, Parliamentarians and every other facet of a law-abiding society will be required to embrace the new definition of marriage.”

These fears are groundless: If Parliament moves to allow gays and lesbians legal access to civil marriage, religions will continue to enjoy the freedom to perform marriage ceremonies as they see fit and for whomever they choose. This religious freedom is clearly protected in law, and entrenched in the constitution. The current legal incapacity of same sex couples to register marriages is a restriction on religions that want to perform these ceremonies. Removing this legal impediment will enhance religious freedom and give all Canadians access to legal civil marriage regardless of their religious beliefs. In a free and pluralistic society, this is to be expected.

Summary

The New Green Alliance urges the committee to recommend that the federal government legislate to remove opposite sex restriction on marriage. This will allow same sex couples the freedom to civilly marry and lift the restrictions placed on religious groups that wish to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples. This is the only recommendation that fully addresses equality concerns ...

Restricting access to marriage and creating a civil registry scheme is clearly not a choice that enhances equality and dignity. Abolishing civil marriage and removing Parliament from marriage entirely would be a serious abdication of responsibility by the federal government, which would serve only to spread inequality to secular Canadians.

Despite the fear mongering of some, allowing same sex couples access to legal marriage will not require any religion to perform such marriages. In actuality, this would allow religions that wish to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples the freedom to do so.

Marriage has evolved over time. Allowing same sex couples the same range of relationship recognition choices as opposite sex couples is a simple matter of fairness. It is difficult to see how any heterosexual marriage could possibly be harmed by extending to same sex couples the freedom to marry. When all citizens are treated fairly and their dignity is affirmed, society can only be enhanced. We call upon the committee to support equality and not seek to deny it.

Submitted by Brian Berezowski
The Saskatchewan New Green Alliance Party

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