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June 17, 2005

Quakers on Bill C-38

Marriage as a social institution is all too often co-opted for personal or political gain. Much of the rhetoric around same-sex marriage in Canada has ignored the truth I believe to be at the heart of the debate: the ability of a couple to properly care for one another without the impediment of a law embodying the prejudices of others. This is an electronic copy of the Submission to the Legislative Committee on Bill C-38 by the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers). It advances a position of tolerance for the rights of people to act on their beliefs. Only sensible, in my opinion.

The minute stands in a long Quaker tradition of speaking out on issues of social justice and human rights. In this instance, the rights of gay and lesbian couples stands along side the right of faith communities to act on their own beliefs without imposing these beliefs on others.

Please keep this in mind the next time you hear someone say the views of religious people are being disregarded by Bill C-38. This legislation is supported by many people with strong religious convictions, myself included. All too often it is our religious beliefs that are entirely disregarded in this debate no matter how much the "religious" right has chooses to adopt the victim rhetoric of the extreme left.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at June 17, 2005 06:14 AM

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? The Quakers Support Same Sex Marriage from Bow. James Bow.
Hat tip to Ghost of a Flea The minute stands in a long Quaker tradition of speaking out on issues of social justice and human rights. In this instance, the rights of gay and lesbian couples stands along side the... [Read More]

Tracked on June 18, 2005 11:33 PM


Two things:

-One conservative US Piskie wrote an apology that went something like: "We need to apologize to homosexuals. This fight between orthodox & liberals has long brewed, over other arguments, and it became this issue that boiled it over. It's yet another victimization."
If I can find the link again, I'll shoot it your way, Flea, becoz I think he's right. The religious arguments have a history of resistance to women's ordination, revision of rites, revision of canons, interpretation of dogma, etc. & this issue was the last straw man.

-I understand your point, but find some of the religious right's [no scare quotes here] arguments half-way convincing when I hear tell of gay activist groups intending to deny church tax exemptions on the basis of them NOT performing same sex marriages in Canada. This is very much a strong-arm tactic & it erodes religious freedoms & rights.
Quakers may be 'on the side of the angels' [as it were] on this social issue, but if the basic rights of those you disagree with are ignored, what shall become of yours when you are not?

There are 'many rooms in Our Father's mansion', Flea. That kind of implies the same problems of living in an apartment building with thin walls at times. ;-)

Posted by: urthshu [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 17, 2005 10:50 PM

I cannot speak to the situation in the United States because you have a much more thorough-going notion of religious liberty than we do in Canada. My ordination by the Ministry of Salvation, Chula Vista CA may let me carry out weddings and funerals in California but it offers me no tax advantages in Canada. I doubt the UFO cult I am planning to set up will entitle me to marry folks in Toronto be they gay, straight or alien let alone exempt me from property taxes. In Canada some religious beliefs are more equal than others. In Ontario, for example, my taxes pay for a separate Catholic school system. There are some pretty good historical reasons for this but it is an obviously inequitable situation given how many Sikhs, Hindus, etc. and so forth are being asked to pay for a religious education that is of no benefit to their children. I think it is even more obviously unreasonable to demand gay people pay taxes to support an institution that has been very politically active in attempting to reverse the law and deny their marriages. Imagine for a moment any state of the union demanding some Americans pay for the religious education of others and you can see a difference in the way Canadians and Americans address these issues.

The tax-exemption rhetoric on the part of the "religious" right (scare quotes fully intended) is only the latest in a long line of utter canards on this issue. From my point of view, my taxes should not be providing a subsidy to any religious groups in the first place - including the Quakers - with or without same-sex marriage. Worse yet is the utterly gruesome spectacle of a consituency claiming they are being discriminated against because they * may * lose an entitlement - not a right - to a subsidy nobody else should be forced to pay for in the first place. I agree it would be inequitable to continue to subsidize some religious organizations and not others depending on their views about same-sex marriage but then I think it is currently inequitable to subsidize some religious organizations and not others because of historical accident, political leverage or blind inertia. So once again, and as is my position on the whole issue of civil marriages, all I am suggesting is that people keep their noses out of everybody else's business and that if they want to subscribe to the UFO cult of their choice that they pay for it themselves instead of demanding a tithe from my tax dollars.

Don't like gay people? I could care less. Don't approve of same-sex marriage? So what? It is not my intention here to educate or convince anybody of anything except in my ongoing fatwa against false Jedi. All I ask is that these folks keep their obsessions with gay sex (and smoking and drinking and Sunday shopping and etc. and so forth) away from my hard-won liberty. There is a fundamental misapprehension here about the nature of tolerance. Gay people are not asking to be tolerated or respected by anybody, only to be treated equally before the law. It is some factional interests - often claiming to be religious interests - who are demanding special treatment and ongoing access to public monies. There is nothing conservative about such a demand. A special dispensation to discriminate against people on the basis of their sexuality is guaranteed by the Canadian consitution. I see no guarantee in that document, or in common sense, that I should be forced to pay for it.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 12:16 PM

Ah...I had no idea Canadians were actively taxed to support religious institutions. Here, all we do is exempt them; due to the exclusion clause, we can't levy taxes to support any religion or religious school, as that constitutes endorsement. In part, this accounts for our pathetic arguments about school prayer & even mention of diety in public schools.

The 'tax-exemption rhetoric' is actually coming from the gay activists, though. From your response, I took you as conflating the source with the religious right, so I wanted to clarify that. Your position on that issue is actually in line with the activists whom I don't support, but then I wasn't aware of the peculiarities of your system.
And allow me to be clear: I don't support the particular argument [moneys as weapons] by these particular activists. I'm not making comment on the larger question of SSM with this present post, and I regard that as a non-religious issue anyway.

It does add a wrinkle. As an American, my complaint would be about any taxation for religion in the first place [as you're stating too] rather than about leaving it in place to use as a weapon/threat against the free practice of anothers' religious choice.

Thank you for explaining that, by the way.

Posted by: urthshu [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 06:47 PM


"I agree it would be inequitable to continue to subsidize some religious organizations and not others depending on their views about same-sex marriage"

Ok, my apologies, I read too fast. You're *not* in agreement with these particular activists. ;-)

Posted by: urthshu [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 18, 2005 06:57 PM

Well... I might be in agreement with those activists but it is difficult to say because I have never heard or read anyone who is in favour of Bill C-38 suggesting they then want to go after tax subsidies for particular religious organizations. I would be grateful if you (or others reading this) could point me in the direction of anyone who is making that case. I * have * heard people claiming same-sex marriage will somehow lead to discrimination against their right to discriminate but seeing as those rights are protected under the Charter it is difficult to say what weight these concerns should be given. I think this is particularly the case when those crying discrimination are most often themselves the voices of people who think discrimination is just fine provided it is, as usual, gay people who are to be discriminated against. I would also be interested in reading a defense of the tax-exempt status of religious organizations both here and in the United States. I am particularly curious how the Canadian federal government decides whether or not an organization counts as a religion and consequently deserving of tax breaks not available to me as a private citizen. Until I set up my UFO cult, that is.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2005 09:57 AM

To continue... the issue for me is equality before the law. This is my main reason for supporting Bill C-38 as at the moment same-sex couples can marry in seven provinces but, for reasons that are obscure to me, not in, for example, Alberta. It is also my main objection to a Conservative party platform whose agenda is to overturn those provincial laws and erase those marriages. Equality before the law should also be upheld in the treatment of religious organizations and in respecting the profoundly held convictions of individuals including and especially those with which we disagree. So, I don't have to like it that * some * readings of the Koran or the Book of Mormon, to pick two examples out of the air, place women in a subordinate position to men and I can argue against those readings but it is not down to me to prevent people from believing such nonsense.

That said, respecting the right of someone to hold opinions I find stupid is not the same thing as respecting those opinions and, more importantly, of agreeing respect for the right to hold stupid opinions means I should shut up when people try to impose those opinions on me through public policy. Debates about the introduction of sharia law in Ontario through a provincially managed dispute resolution system run into this problem. On the one hand I am happy for communities to draw on expert arbiters whose guidance is some form of scripture. On the other hand it is difficult to see how we can ensure people - most often women - do not end up pressured or coerced into sharia arbitration when they would otherwise have recourse to the (at least in theory) neutral provincial courts. More importantly, I do not see why I as a non-Muslim should be forced to pay for sharia arbitration through taxation. What if a gay couple split up and could not decide how to divide their CD collection? I doubt a sharia arbiter would agree to help them resolve their dilemma seeing as the Wahabi exponents of Islam think their religion mandates that gay men be murdered and it is this well financed face of Islam that one can only fear would be represented. That being the case, why on earth should either of them be expected to pay for sharia arbiters through the tax system? It may sound "insensitive" or "disrespectful" of me to "discriminate against religon" by pointing this out but it is nothing short of the truth and reflexive Canadian politeness and avoidance of confrontation is of little assistance. I have no interest in being sensitive or respectful of opinions that are bigoted and stupid whether or not they are founded in religious conviction. It is actively against my interest to ignore it when the Conservative party decides opposition to same-sex marriage is a "vote winner" - as it was recently described to me by an Alberta MP who shall remain nameless - among anti-gay Canadians of all colours and creeds.

But as usual the supply of Canadian stupid is not confined to the right of the political spectrum. If we were seriously discussing a parallel evangelical arbritration system I expect Margaret Atwood would once again remind us ot A Handmaid's Tale, and she would be right to, but all too many voices are silent in the defense of women's rights because the women whose rights are threatened are not white suburbanites with graduate degrees. Once again I find it difficult to imagine such a system even being discussed in the United States let alone agreed to as a sound and equitable use of tax dollars. My impression is that Americans are much more inclined to pay for their own religious convictions.

This is the logic that I try to apply across the board. I wish those hypothetical gay activists and supposedly discriminated against evangelicals would do the same.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 19, 2005 10:14 AM

I posted a discussion on equality before the law here:


There is no right to civil marriage in Canadian law, only a system of entitlements currently enjoyed by one group of citizens and recently extended (in most provinces) to another. If entitlements are going to be extended to one group of citizens and not another, let alone * withdrawn * from a group of citizens as the Conservatives currently propose, it is the onus of those would enshrine an unequal system of entitlements to defend this proposal. It is not the onus of people claiming equality before the law to do so. Equality before the law * is * a right, not a specific entitlement, and should be curtailed or jeopardized in only the most extreme of circumstances. If civil unions are only a matter of "a word" as some Conservatives claim, and not a national emergency or state of war, then they need a far better argument than their own "religious" preferences to systematically deny "a word" to their fellow citizens.

The Canadian constitution does guarantee the right of people to practice their religious beliefs. In that sense, Canadians have the right to celebrate weddings in the fashion of their choosing. I am not, for example, a Lutheran and so consequently have no * right * to a Lutheran wedding whether or not William Shatner gets around to proposing to me or should the Lutherans ever decide to acknowledge same-sex marriages. But the right of Lutherans to worship in the fashion of their choosing does not extend to them, or any other group, reason to deny me a civil marriage license acknowledging my heretofore unrequited burning, burning Shatner love.

I have no interest in rehearsing these arguments, linking to them or publishing willful illogic such as the scurrilous and alarmist materials the National Post is currently using to sell newspapers. Canadians have more than enough elected representatives in Parliament pandering to factional "religious" interests to need such materials distributed through my blog. If I thought those voices had no venue I would probably take a different position on the subject. As it stands, people wishing to exercise their rights to freedom of expression would be better served by explaining why their entitlements are too good for gay people to the Quakers. They have more patience than I do.

Posted by: Ghost of a flea [TypeKey Profile Page] at June 23, 2005 04:46 PM