My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
There is no question that in our society gays and lesbians have been subjected to all too much discrimination and injustice. There are indeed people infected with "homophobia" and under no circumstances can anyone justify violence and gay-bashing.
Nevertheless, there is also no room for a false sense of tolerance and an uncritical acceptance, legitimation and institutionalizing of immoral behaviour. Furthermore, if words have any meaning at all, issues of "fairness", "justice", "equity" are ethical and moral issues, which deal with norms and value judgments. One ought to be able to enter into the debate, offer a critique and express reservations about homosexual activity and lifestyle without being labelled "homophobic."
The Church teaches that sexual relations must occur within a marriage between a man and a woman who are open to procreation. For this reason, the Church considers homosexual behaviour to be morally unacceptable. "...Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which present homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affection and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved."(Catechism of the Catholic Church 2357).
At the same time, "They (gays and lesbians) must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided"( 2358). Accordingly, the Church makes a distinction, that is often not made in the public debate, between the orientation or inclination, on the one hand, and behaviour, on the other.
The position of the Church is both principled and carefully nuanced. Respect for the dignity of every human being is foundational. Everyone, without exception, is unique and created in the image and likeness of God. Everyone is entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. However, the Church does not include among human rights a "right" to behaviour that it considers to be morally wrong. The Church also condemns the misuse of its teaching to justify violence or the abuse of persons who are homosexual.
Marriage is both a basic institution of society and a sacrament in the Catholic Church. It plays a pivotal social role in the stability of the family and is a sign of the participation of men and women in creation. As Mr. Justice La Forest said in the Egan Case in the Supreme Court of Canada: "Suffice it to say that marriage has from time immemorial been firmly grounded in our legal tradition, one that is itself a reflection of long standing philosophical and religious traditions. But its ultimate raison d'etre transcends all of these and is firmly anchored in the biological and social realities that heterosexual couples have the unique ability to procreate, that most children are the product of these relationship, and that they are generally cared for and nurtured by those who live in that relationship".
Coming out of such an historical, philosophical, and religious tradition, many of us are concerned that the effect of the Supreme Court decision (Vriend vs the Government of Alberta) may be to create social recognition, legitimatize homosexual relationships or change definitions of family, spouse or marriage. As a result of adding "sexual orientation" to the Ontario Human Rights Code, same sex couples were awarded benefits as spouses because the definition of "marital status" in the Code that restricted the meaning of common law spouse to a person of the opposite sex was held to be discriminatory.
In the Leshner case, a Board of Inquiry found an inherent conflict between the section of the Code that prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and the definition of marital status that excluded homosexual relationships. The remedy was to "read down" the legislation so that the words "opposite sex" were deleted from the definition.
In assessing the impact of the Supreme Court decision, we should keep before us certain criteria:
Are there reasonable grounds for judging that the institution of marriage and the family could, and would be, undermined by a change in the law?
Would society's rejection of a proposed change in the law be more harmful to the common good than the acceptance of such a change?
Does a person's sexual orientation or activity constitute, in specific circumstances, a sufficient and relevant reason for treating that person in any way differently from other citizens?
Furthermore, as the decision itself clearly states: "Governments are free to modify the amended legislation by passing exceptions and defences which they feel can be justified under s. 1 of the Charter (of Rights and Freedoms). Thus, when a court reads in, this is not the end of the legislative process...."
Sincerely yours in Christ,
☩ Frederick Henry