Bishop's Blog

Same-Sex Marriage

My Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Results of recent polling of Canadians indicate that, by almost two thirds, “same sex marriage” is unacceptable to Canadians, an oxymoron. Now in an attempt to regroup, appealing to our sense of tolerance and justice, proponents of “same sex marriage” have attempted to shift the focus of the debate, opting for “equal marriage.” However, all the packaging in the world doesn’t alter substance.

There are many kinds of friendship open to all; but that particular kind of friendship that is marriage involves gender complementarity and the life-creating potential that can be found only in the relationship between a man and a woman. To construe anything else as similar to marriage or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and the family is to confront an insurmountable biological impossibility.

A marriage is a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others.

Nevertheless, according to Bill C-38, the social institution that has always symbolized our society’s commitment to the future - our children - will be transformed into an institution that symbolizes our commitment to the present, the needs and desires of adults. Marriage will have a new primary purpose, to validate and protect sexually intimate adult relationships.

Legislation which redefines marriage cannot achieve the impossible. It cannot alter the simple reality that there is a fundamental difference between a relationship that, by its nature, has the potential to create a child and a relationship, that by its nature, absolutely does not.

It is not unjust, or a limitation of anyone’s legitimate rights and freedoms, to insist that marriage is a covenant between a man and a woman. If one were refused such positions because of race, or religion, or ethnic background, or something not related to the nature of the reality at issue, then that would indeed be an injustice and a denial of individual rights.

If, however, one were refused because one excludes basic elements of the role itself, that is not in any way an injustice.

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 right issue.

In one of my previous pastoral letters I wrote: “Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good.”

Each, in its own way, undermines the foundations of the family. My list was never meant to be exhaustive as the Catechism of the Catholic Church also mentions: divorce, fornication, rape, etc.

The state obviously responds to each of these threats to family life in different ways as it exercises its coercive power. The government has a solemn obligation to protect, not re-engineer, an institution that is more fundamental to human life than the state. In a word, it must “build fences” to protect the institution of marriage.

The coercive power of the state extends to traffic laws, tax policy, education curriculum, communication regulations, and a whole host of other areas including marriage.

For example, in the case of marriage, federal legislation prohibits people from marrying if they are related linearly or as brother and sister, whether by whole blood, half blood or by adoption. Specifically: a woman may not marry her grandfather, father, grandson, son or brother. A man may not marry his grandmother, mother, granddaughter, daughter of sister.

The time has come for the government of Canada to use its coercive powers to legislate that a couple being married must be one man and one woman.

This is not a fascist or Hitler-like position, nor even an anti-homosexual stance, but it reflects Christian teaching on the primordial status of marriage and family life.

As an Albertan, I am afraid that we have been so concerned with the Bill - C 38, communicating with and attempting to influence federal politicians that we have neglected the provincial scene. As a result, Premier Klein and our provincial government continue to flip flop on traditional marriage.

One minute, posturing as the champions of traditional marriage, and promising to renew the notwithstanding provision of the Alberta Defence of Marriage Act, and the next moment, allowing the notwithstanding provision to expire on March 22. The ultimate argument being that provincial legislation would end up being a waste of tax-payer dollars.

Such an argument is hollow as there is no better place for Alberta to invest its money than in the defence of marriage and family life. It is time to be pro-active, not reactive. We don’t have to wait for the federal government to act.

We should renew the notwithstanding provision of the Alberta Defence of Marriage Act and add an amendment to the existing Marriage Act stating that in order for a marriage to be solemnized in Alberta and a marriage licence issued, the couple needs to be a man and a woman. The issuing of marriage licences is a provincial right and this is where our power resides.

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Health Care Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
Related Themes Same Sex Attraction Catholic Teachings Family Marriage

Tragic Betrayal: Terri Schiavo

Tragic Betrayal

In February 1990 a sudden loss of oxygen to the brain left Terri Schiavo in a coma and eventually in a profoundly incapacitated state. In October 2003 the Court finally ruled that Terri was indeed in a Persistent Vegetative State, and that her feeding tube should be removed.

Under the law in Florida, where the Terri’s case was adjudicated, the patient’s prior wishes must be demonstrated with the highest standard of legal certainty in civil cases, i.e. “clear and convincing evidence”. In cases where this standard of proof is not met, the court must err on “the side of life,” on the assumption that most people, even those who are profoundly disabled, would choose life rather than death.

Terri left no living will, no advance directive, nor formal instructions about what to do for her under such circumstances.

The Court relied entirely on Michael Schiavo’s recollection of a few casual conversations, on a train and watching television, in which Terri supposedly said that she wouldn’t want to live “if I ever have to be a burden to anybody” or be kept alive “on anything artificial.”

Admittedly, this constitutes some, but hardly convincing and conclusive, evidence of her wishes.

In 1992, Michael testified at a malpractice hearing that he would care for Terri for the rest of his life, that he wouldn’t “trade her for the world,” that he was going to nursing school to become a better care-giver. He explicitly reaffirmed his marriage vow, “in sickness, in health.”

Many have asked why it took six years for him to remember that dying was his wife’s wish. Others ask whether a disaffected husband with dubious motives, now in a new relationship with children generated from this union, should be granted absolute control over his wife’s fate.

Not only did Court and Michael Schiavo betray Terri, so did much of the main- stream media.

A misleading, and frequently repeated, ABC News Poll said that 63% of Americans wanted Schiavo’s feeding tube removed. The poll said she was “on life support,” which was not true, and that she has “no consciousness,” which her family and dozens of doctors disputed in sworn affidavits.

The poll also said the family disagreement is whether she would have wanted to “be kept alive.” But Schiavo was not dying - or wasn’t while she was being fed. So the question wasn’t whether she should “be kept alive” or “allowed to die,” but whether to stop feeding her, in which case she would die.

By most accounts, death by starvation and dehydration is painful, even gruesome death. That’s why we don’t starve convicted criminals to death, or animals either.

While this cruelty was going on in the hospice, Michael Schiavo’s lawyer, George Felos, said to one and all : “Terri is stable, peaceful, and calm ... she looked beautiful.” His words were accepted without question by the media.

As a society, we also betrayed Terri Schiavo. We asked what she would have wanted as a competent person imagining herself in such a position instead of what do we owe those who are not dead or dying but profoundly disabled and permanently dependent?

What do we owe to this person who can no longer speak for herself, a person entrusted to the care of her family and the protection of society?

In the Gospel of St, Matthew, we read “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink”.

One of the most primordial human acts in caring for another person is feeding the sick and hungry. Food and water are some of the most basic human needs. All persons, regardless of whether they are elderly, sick, poor, homeless, abandoned, or suffer from any disability which interferes with the normal process of eating and the absorption of nutrients, require food and water in order to maintain life and to regain or maintain health.

Pope John Paul II emphasized that the provision of food and water should be “considered, in principle, ordinary and proportionate, and as such, morally obligatory, insofar as and until it is seen to have attained its proper finality, which in the present case consists in providing nourishment to the patient and alleviation of his suffering.”

The underlying principle is the intrinsic dignity and worth of every person. This principle mandates that we must always care for one another.

As necessary as technological, biological, or physiological processes involving mechanical ingestion of food and water may be, the provision of care should never be limited to them. The act of feeding another person should be an active, not a passive, exercise in providing nutrition and hydration. We provide comfort and care for the whole person, we don’t just target the disease or the body.

Hand feeding the sick, be it sitting next to an elderly blind woman raising a spoon of soup to her lips, or instructing and supporting a distraught husband as he nourishes his wife whose life experiences are now entombed as a result of Alzheimer’s disease are virtuous acts which bring comfort, hope and healing to the whole person.. These are acts which affirm personhood and demonstrate a commitment to be present in times of suffering and anguish, in times of fear, loneliness and abandonment.

Forgive us, Terri, we betrayed you in so many ways!

☩ Frederick Henry
Bishop Emeritus

Related Offices Health Care Social Justice Bishop's Life & Family Resource Centre (LFRC)
Related Themes Social Justice Conscience Moral and Ethics Euthanasia Catholic Teachings Life Issues Prolife

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