Liberal Foreign Affairs Minister, Pierre Pettigrew, recently quipped: "I find the separation of church and the state is one of the most beautiful inventions of modern times." He went on to add that the church is obligated to remain silent on the issue of same sex unions as the government and the churches should not get involved in each others affairs.
No retraction or apology has been forthcoming from the government to date. Nevertheless, it is clear that the churches in their opposition to same sex "marriage" legislation are starting to get under his thin skin.
To ask clergy and believers not to base their contribution to society and political life - through the legitimate means available to everyone in a democracy - on their particular understanding of the human person and the common good is to deny their basic rights.
Canada guarantees every one of its citizens is "freedom of religion". Article 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: (a) freedom of religion and conscience....." In Canada, freedom of religion means the numerous churches and religious bodies and individuals are free to speak about what our governments do or fail to do.
Religious freedom is central to the current debate about the re-invention of marriage.
A few weeks ago, I really wasn't too concerned about this dimension of the question, but I am now.
My first concern has to do with the Supreme Court's decision.
Their decision on the marriage reference indicates that "the protection of religion afforded by s.2 (a) of the Charter is broad enough and jealously guarded in our Charter jurisprudence." Religious officials are protected "from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same-sex marriages that are contrary to their religious belief." Freedom of religion also prevents "the compulsory use of sacred places for the celebration of such marriages."
However, there is a disturbing qualifier added in the decision, i.e. "absent unique circumstances with respect to which the Court will not speculate, the guarantee of religious freedom in s. 2(a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials ..."
Here we have an open door. Particular circumstances might lead to some future court legitimately trying to force religious officials to perform these ceremonies against their conscience, though the justices decline to speculate on what those circumstances might be. It is disquieting that the Court would even raise the possibility.
My second concern has to do with the government's "heavenly deception" re Bill C -38.
According to the preamble and S.3 of the Bill, officials of religious groups are protected from performing same-sex marriages, if it is contrary to their beliefs. These are absolutely meaningless provisions. Religious groups are not so protected by this same-sex legislation.
The federal government knows that the Supreme Court of Canada in the same-sex marriage reference case specifically stated that religious rights are matters of provincial jurisdiction only and that the federal government has no authority over them.
Marriage commissioners in some Canadian provinces have already been ordered to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex partners, despite their religious beliefs. The federal government can do nothing to halt this trampling on the religious beliefs of these commissioners, despite its statement in the preamble that "everyone" has freedom of conscience and religion which will not be affected by this same-sex legislation.
In addition, the federal government knows that in every case where religious rights have competed with homosexual rights, the Supreme Court of Canada has ordered the trumping of homosexual rights over religious rights. The parade of cases to diminish religious rights on same-sex marriage issues has already commenced with a BC lesbian couple claiming discrimination because a Catholic men's organization, the Knights of Columbus, has refused to rent their hall for their marriage celebration.
The preamble also claims that same-sex marriage, respects the "right" of same-sex couples to equality without discrimination. Again the federal government is fully aware that the Supreme Court of Canada did not state in the reference case that opposite sex marriage was discriminatory against same-sex couples. It merely stated that the government may, as a matter of policy, extend marriage to same-sex couples, but it did not require the government to do so, on the basis that it was an equality or human rights issue.
It is obvious that, in its effort to push through this unpopular legislation and make it more palatable, the government is involved in "heavenly deception."
In the one area where the Government of Canada is free to legislate on its own, there is silence. The proposed legislation does not offer protection to faith groups from being penalized with respect to their charitable status if they do not agree with the proposed redefinition of marriage.
It is sadly ironic that freedom of conscience and religion under Section 2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms invoked by Bill C-38 has such limited application within the parliament of Canada itself. All cabinet ministers and the members of some opposition parties are expected to vote "yes", whether such an action is against their conscience or not.
If this matter is to be voted on in parliament, then every single member of parliament must be free to vote according to his or her conscience.
My last pastoral letter against the re-invention of marriage generated an avalanche of mail from all parts of the world, representing different constituencies and a wide range of opinions.
The most moving letters were those from young people struggling with same-sex attractions and from their parents urging that we “be loving and accepting of them as they are,” and “support them in every way possible, not fan the flames of contempt for them by harsh words and odious comparisons.”
Such pleas echo basic Christian teaching: “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2358)
However, such acceptance shouldn’t obliterate the other side of the coin, i.e. “... basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” (2357)
The difficult balance is to hold onto both unconditional love and uncompromising truth.
Intimacy with God speaks to the centrality of the need for intimacy.“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,...” Our call as Christian men and women is to an intimacy with God, an intimacy that is not exclusive but rather inclusive of others both in general and individually - “... and your neighbour as yourself” (Lk.10:27)
As disciples, we are called to pursue holiness and wholeness.
Most people find intimacy within their friendships which can realistically be reduced to two kinds: social friendships and intimate friendships. The former are those with enjoy with the people we work with, go to school with, live near, belong to clubs with, play golf with, have a drink with, tell a joke to, do a favour for, etc.
We share time with these people but generally don’t share too much of ourselves. We enjoy their company, and they add something important to our lives. As valuable as these relationships are, we need deeper friends.
With these intimate friends we are able put aside the masks, pretenses, and phoniness - all the things about our self that we create in order to appear admirable - and permit the other person to see us as we are, warts and all. Obviously we are vulnerable when we do this. We open ourselves to rejection, humiliation, even exploitation, but also the possibility that we will move from acquaintance to friendliness, then on to friendship, love, and finally union.
In accordance with our complex and diverse needs, there are at least eight different types of intimacy: emotional, intellectual, aesthetic, creative, recreational, crisis, erotic and spiritual. No one person will ever be able to meet all these intimacy needs. We all need several intimate relationships in our lives, with both sexes, in order to meet such a variety of needs.
Dr. Richard Gilmartin, a psychologist and psychotherapist , maintains that it is misleading to make “being intimate” synonymous with having sexual intercourse. Having a sexual relationship with another does not, in itself, bring intimacy.
“Sex is a way of expressing intimacy, never a way of achieving it. Too often, we enter into a sexual relationship with another when what we really want is intimacy... Sex can be intensely pleasurable, while intimacy is deeply satisfying. Whenever we separate sex from love, love suffers, and consequently our desire for true intimacy is never really fulfilled..”
“As long as we think of marriage as the model for intimacy, the sexual aspect holds the focus.”
Often our most intimate relationships will have no erotic dimension and many married people discover their deepest intimate moments are other than their physical love-making. Friendship is a much better model for intimacy.
The challenge is not to avoid intimacy, but to embrace it, and find its expression in ways that do not compromise those values by which we are called to live our lives, such as:
- Every person is created in God's image and has an inherent dignity.
- Sexuality is a gift from God.
- The power and freedom of sexuality can be channelled toward good or evil.
- Christ summons all his followers to chastity, modesty and self-control.
- In God's plan, sexual intercourse belongs only within marriage between a man and a woman.
- Every act of intercourse must be open to the possible creation of human life.
- Homosexual (genital) behaviour is objectively immoral.
- A distinction must be made between homosexual (genital) behaviour and a homosexual orientation, which is not immoral in itself.
- Neither a homosexual orientation, nor a heterosexual one, leads inevitably to sexual activity.
- One's total personhood is not reducible to sexual orientation or behaviour.
- Our Christian tradition calls us to integrate chastity and intimacy in our pursuit of holiness and wholeness.
Further suggesting readings:
Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, 1986 - Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Always Our Children: A Pastoral; Message to Parent of Homosexual Children and Suggestions for Pastoral Ministers