It was perhaps inevitable that this day should come. Today the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Federal Government has the right, if not the obligation, to redefine the instituion of marriage through legislation. The story can be found here:
One of the more interesting points that arises is that no province can use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to opt out of any such redefning legislation, as the Supreme Court granted Ottawa sole jurisdiction in the matter.
The tide on this issue, which has been cast by its proponents in terms of human rights, has been rising for some time, and all efforts to stem it have met with very little success.
I am experiencing a certain ambivalence about the ruling. On the one hand I am offended that the judiciary would, on the basis of a current, recent, and far from unanious sentiment, overturn what by its own admission is a definition with an ancient pedigree.
On the other hand I am grateful that the Court affirmed the rights of pastors to not perform such ceremonies, though I am sure that the way we go about exercising that right will be subject to much scrutiny. I expect that we will have to be very careful to decline on the basis of a positive affirmation of a traditional understnding of marriage, and not on the basis of a negative appraisal of homosexuality.
My personal preference would be the creation of a parallel institution, one which gurantees the same rights for homosexual partnerships as are currently enjoyed by heterosexual marriages, while maintaining the insitution of marriage, as such, as it has traditionally existed.
In my opinion, the redefinition of marriage would be an act of discrimination on the part of the government towards Christians and other groups who share Christianity's view of marriage, almost all of which I imagine are faith based. For the government to redefine marriage then, and foist that upon us would be to discriminate against us.
Some might be outraged at the suggestion that Christians can be discriminated against. That would be, I think, because many associate discrimination with groups who have been, traditionally and historically, disenfranchised. Under such a vision, it is a priori impossible for a group that has been historically and traditionally privielged and empowered to be subject to discrimination.
To those people I offer two thoughts. The first is this: wake up! You cannot claim on the one hand that the definition of marriage needs to be changed based on a current state of cultural consensus while denying that the definition of privileged and empowered needs also to be changed.
If Christians were truly privileged and empowered, this ruling would never have been made, the quesions would never have gotten to the court, and this would not be an issue. That we are where we are indicates that there has been a certain amount of role reversal that has taken place. Homosexuals are no longer so disenfranchised, and Christians are no longer so privileged. Our understanding of discrimination needs to reflect that.
The second thought I offer is more philosophical. In my opinion discrimination occurs in two situations. First, it occurs when we treat things that are manifestly similar in dissimilar ways in situations where the similarity is of greater importance than the dissimilarity. Second, and this is what is pertinent to us at the moment, discrimination occurs when we treat things that are manifestly dissimilar in similar ways in situations where the dissimilarity is of greater importance than the similarity.
With that in mind, we can see how re-defining marriage is discrminatory; it treats two groups, heterosexual couples and homosexual couples, the same way based on a similarity (both are couples, conjugally) while ingoring the far more relevant differences (one is same -sex, the other opposite sex).
Creating a parallel institution with the same legal standing, by contrast, is not discrimantory. It acknowledges the similarities while paying resepct to the differences.
It might be argued that we Christians ought not be concerned about the Court's ruling at all, that since Canada is not a Chrisitan country anyway we ought not be surprised, and not worry. We don't have to recognise same sex relationships in the churches after all.
For the moment let me suggest two good reasons we should be concerned. One is the slippery slope argument. Some might scoff at this, but I think it is relevant. When one is at the peak of a hill, arguing for the slippery slope is difficult since you have only speculation to go by. We are nowhere near the summit of the mountain as regards this issue however. We are far enough down the mountain that we can see how far we have come, and how fast. In short, we can observe and measure just how steep and slippery the slope has been, and that leaves us in a good position to judge how momentum will impact us in the near future.
And where might that momentum take us? While the Court ruled that churches and clergy have the right to opt out of performing same sex ceremonies, we ned to ask how difficult it will be (how difficult it will be made?) for us to exercise that right. We need to consider how narrowly that right will be defined, and how closely monitored its exercise will be. Some might consider me an alarmist, but I would again point to the slope, and ask how many times have people been certain we were at the bottom? How many times have people said: "it will never go that far" referring to points on the slope that are now far behind us? Can we be so sure we have hit bottom now? Are there no points farther down where the existing momentum can take us?
The second reason is very simple: Marriage is God's. It is not for man to define it or redefine it. What God has defined let no man or Court redefine. As a Christian I am zealous for God, His ways, His things. I am protective of that which is His. That includes marriage. It is simply a matter of stewarship. As with all things that God has given to us, we will be held accountable for how we have taken care of marriage.