The January 2005 newsletter for constituents of John Williams, the Member of Parliament representing Edmonton-St. Albert, is emblematic of the embarrassing Conservative stance on same-sex marriages. His recent issue of Keeping In Touch states that “if people want to enter into some other kind of relationship they can find some other name to call it, but it is not marriage.” To me this sounds comparable to the “separate but equal” proposition that underpinned racist policies in the segregated Southern U.S. in the 1950s.
Williams’ stand on same-sex marriage is based on a rather Pollyanna view of male-female relationships, and some incorrect assumptions about the history of human marriages. The MP’s newsletter includes the absurd oversimplification that “Since time immemorial all societies have recognized the union of a man and a woman, celebrated the union and called it marriage.” That does sound sweet, but this rose-coloured view is embarrassingly limited and unrealistic. Within human history, we know that there has been a great deal of polygamy, concubinage, slavery, divorce, infidelity, spousal abuse, wife-burning, etc. Yet, in spite of the failure of heterosexuals to uphold the value of marriage, many homosexuals simply want to enter into committed relationships recognized by the state in the same way as heterosexual unions. And Williams has a problem with this?
Most disturbing is that Williams offers a completely self-serving and arbitrary pronouncement on human rights. He simply rejects the notion of marriage as a human right: “However, I do not agree that [marriage] is an issue of human rights since a human right is an inalienable right for all people, at all times.” In other words, marriage is not a right because sometimes this right is withheld. This only indicates that Williams is the victim of circular logic. Williams elaborates:
“Marriage is not a human right, because there are many people in this country who want to marry and who have no recourse in law to do so. Marriage is a voluntary relationship between a man and a woman and no one is legally required to enter into marriage. We do not allow young people who are under the age of majority to marry. We do not allow close relatives to marry, therefore, marriage is not an inalienable right and therefore it is not a human right” (Williams Speaks Out On Same Sex Marriage, Keeping in Touch, January 2005).
Conservatives often talk about civil liberties, but only appear to be interested in human rights when it fits their own agenda. In this instance, it seems that Williams would simply deny rights to some members of society, and justify it through some rather bizarre reasoning. Here are a few newsflashes for Williams: charter rights such as freedom of association and freedom of expression, to name just two examples, are also subject to limitations just as marriage is. And what about the right to vote? In Canada voting is voluntary, no one is legally required to vote, and we do not allow young people who are under the age of majority to vote. But it is still a right! Williams does not appear to grasp the fact that in a democracy rights may have limitations, but those same rights can be actively asserted and need to be protected. That Williams appears to define and dictate human rights according to his own whims should be rather disturbing for any thinking person.
And what of inalienable rights? For all people, at all times? One might also conclude that Williams is painfully unaware of Canada’s history of discrimination. What about the head-tax on Chinese immigrants, the internment of Japanese-Canadians, or the institution of residential schools? Our country has often failed to grant certain groups their “inalienable” rights, and it looks as if the Conservatives are prepared to follow the tradition.
Suggesting that he wants to keep his constituents “fully informed,” Williams is offering two Town Hall meetings on the subject of same-sex marriages. The first one will be at the St. Albert Seniors Centre, and the second will be in Edmonton at the Calder Seniors’ Centre. Is Mr. Williams simply packing the house with older people whom he assumes will be most likely to support his stance, allowing him to provide his partisan agenda to a traditionally conservative audience? I fear that Williams is not interested in determining the opinions of his constituents, but rather in advancing his regressive views.
Canadians should be outraged by the Conservative party’s apparent support for discrimination, and their blatant disregard of the findings of the judicial system and the recommendations of the Canadian Human Rights Commission. It should be of grave concern to Canadians that the Conservative party would vigorously campaign against minority rights.
Although Williams does not mention religion in his newsletter, the issue has been misused by individuals as a basis for opposing to same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriages ensures religious freedoms. Furthermore, the Canadian Human Rights Commission has confirmed that religious officials will not be forced to perform same-sex marriages.
Canadian Human Rights Commission statement of facts on same-sex marriage:
In the past, the Bible has been used to support slavery, child abuse, racism, and murder. Some conservative Christians cite the Biblical account of the patriarch Lot and the town of Sodom as a justification for homophobia:
Before the guests went to bed, the men of Sodom surrounded the house. All the men of the city, both young and old were there. They called out to Lot and asked, “Where are the men who came to stay with you tonight? Bring them out to us!” The men of Sodom wanted to have sex with them. (Genesis 19: 4-5, Good News Bible)
For some conservative Christians, this scene confirms their prejudices, portraying homosexuals as stereotypically depraved and violent. This story erroneously associates violence with homosexuals, even though in reality heterosexuals are more likely to inflict violence upon homosexuals (“gay-bashing”) than vice versa. But there is more to Lot’s story:
Lot went outside and closed the door behind him. He said to them, “Friends, I beg you, don’t do such a wicked thing! Look, I have two daughters who are still virgins. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do whatever you want with them. But don’t do anything to these men; they are guests in my house, and I must protect them.” (Genesis 19: 6-8 [emphasis added] Good News Bible)
In order to project their personal hatred of homosexuality onto God, conservative Christians often repeat the story of Lot in Sodom, yet consistently neglect to include the second passage in which Lot offers his daughters to be violently raped by the crowd of men. The father’s shameful offer is rarely criticized by fundamentalist Christians, even though Lot’s crime appears to be much worse than that committed by the people of Sodom.
The story of Lot is only one example of the manner in which the Bible has been misused to justify hate. On the other hand, many Christians study the Bible in its historical and cultural context, apart from modern religious agendas and our own cultural assumptions (John Shelby Spong’s Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, is one example). This level of objective Biblical analysis, however, is not consistent across Christian denominations. Compared to the ministry in mainline Protestant denominations, some Christian ministers have little training in higher Biblical criticism, and little understanding of the historical and political context in which the books of the Bible were written. Indeed, many conservative Christians seem to have an outright distrust of “intellectuals.” Perhaps it is this anti-intellectualism that provides an environment conducive to ignorance and thus bigotry toward homosexuals.