Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Parliament’s Janus Face

In 1999, Canadian Members of Parliament voted across party lines in a House of Commons motion affirming a traditional definition of marriage by 216 votes to 55. The 1999 Motion stated: “That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.” (Hansard, June 8, 1999)

However, in 2003, the same motion in the House of Commons was defeated by 137 votes to 132, with many of the same MPs who had supported it in 1999 changing sides – including many past and present Cabinet Ministers. The 2003 motion stated: “That, in the opinion of this House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court decisions, to reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament take all necessary steps within the jurisdiction of the Parliament of Canada to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada.” (Hansard, September 16, 2003)


A long-serving politician’s reflections on religious faith and politics

Benno Friesen was the Progressive Conservative M.P. for Whiterock-Surrey-Delta, BC from 1974 to 1993. The following letter was sent to a senior member of the Liberal government who professes to be a practicing Roman Catholic, and whose identity is protected for reasons of privacy.

Dear ___________,

You indicated that your decision on the House of Commons Motion on Same Sex Marriage had involved a deep struggle; press reports in the last while have indicated that you are a practicing Roman Catholic and take your faith seriously. Your demeanor would seem to confirm this. In the end, however, you opted to vote against the motion because of your deep commitment to the Charter.

This decision, however, raises some very serious questions. The fact that it was a difficult struggle implies (to me at least) that it probably was a struggle between the demands of your faith and your political obligations as you see them. The immediate question, then, is: What is it about the Charter that makes it so powerful that it can trump your faith? Surely you didn't decide that the Charter can better protect Canadians than your faith can. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I don't believe that. Does this mean that you believe that religious truth cannot do what the Charter claims to do?

To answer this it is not enough to invoke the statement about the separation of church and state. Even 2 minutes of serious reflection will show that legal codes in every society are built on the assumption of a moral code which is founded on a belief system.

In one of his books C.S.Lewis has succinctly pointed out the obvious: If man is only material, the state is more important than the individual, since the state outlives material man. However, if man most importantly is a spirit, the individual is more important than the state, since the individual outlives the state, since he (she) lives on forever.

Could I mention just one more thing: It is always the intended goal of faith to guide us through our struggles, not to be over-ruled by them at the most strategically vulnerable times. The great enemies of democracy are not political differences or religious faith, but the temptation to make the State the supreme consideration in all decision-making processes. My hope for you in your leadership of our country is that your faith will guide you in your politics rather than have politics trump your faith. (September 24, 2003)

Warmest regards,

Benno Friesen

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