Friday, February 27, 2004

Two Allowable Irreconcilable Views?

Apologies for yet another “blog” on the issue that will not go away (for the moment) - - the debate about the nature of marriage. Since it raises in a clear way the question I want to address, let me return to it again (and it likely won’t be the last time either).

Some say that marriage is all about love between "any two people" and should be open to couples of the same-sex. Others say that marriage in itself exists largely for the care and nurture of children, is exclusively about male/femaleness and cannot be valid if it involves two people of the same-sex. Neither of these two viewpoints understands the other or, if they do, they do not agree.

People from the first group cannot convince those of the other group and vice versa. The arguments pass like ships in the night because of the different starting assumptions. So, the question (for me and others concerned with the nature of contemporary society) is: "O.K. so on this issue (as on many others as well) we have citizens who don't believe the same things. Since both sets of beliefs can be made publicly, when we fundamentally disagree about something, how do we live together?

Before moving on to make a point about public schools, we need to look quickly at the underlying point about “both sets of beliefs being acceptable.” There are some in the “same-sex community” who are waging a holy war (for they are fundamentalists) against those who disagree with them. They are pushing their campaign for “welcome” (see earlier blogs on that term) in court case after court case after court case in which institutions (Trinity Western University), elected officials (Mayor Haskett of London, Ontario, the elected Trustees of Surrey School Board etc.), individuals (Printer Scott Brockie of Toronto and lately teacher Chris Kempling of BC) have been sued for not supporting “same-sex visibility” (to use the most general sort of claim) in one form or another.

So it is not so clear that the "traditional viewpoint," even if respectfully put forward, is considered by one side an acceptable viewpoint. The “traditionalists”, if we wish to call them that, are not suing to shut down the “same-sex” viewpoints. The litigation is all one way at the moment, fuelled, not just by the Zeitgeist, but also by the funds that are available only to those on the “new” side of the “new equality challenges.”

Tradition, by definition, is not “new” and so is always at a disadvantage when the funding is looking only to further change. Printer Scott Brockie, by the way, as was made abundantly clear in court when he succesfully got the over-reach of the Ontario Human Rights Commission struck down, had not lacked in respect or courtesy when he simply refused to print materials for a Gay and Lesbian group. No one considered Mayor Diane Hasket of London “disrespectful” in how she conducted herself as mayor when she refused to proclaim “gay pride day” in London a few years ago and was found in breach of Human Rights legislation as a result of it. The same with those at Trinity Western University. They had not acted in obnoxious ways, it was just that their viewpoints, perfectly (now) legal viewpoints, were detested by the “new” challengers who sought to shut them down and drive them from a full role in our society.

Respectful opposition is being stigmatized increasingly as "homophobic" "heterosexist" "hateful" etc. and lumping in perfectly acceptable viewpoints (with which they vehemently disagree) with the kind of genuinely nasty and unacceptable actions of a few people who are lacking in the respect and tolerance appropriate to other citizens. It is the lumping together of the two things that is so dangerous.

Hate is an emotion or feeling and crimes are actions. It is actions we rightfully seek to repress by law. When law seeks to suppress feelings or valid (if disputed) expressions then we have gone beyond what the law should cover. This will be the subject of another blog. The point is this: we should not weaken our concern about criminal conduct by calling acceptable opposition (with which we might not agree) “hate crimes.” Remember the little boy who called “wolf?” By calling things that are not crimes - - crimes, we will weaken the respect we have for law so as to better to respond to genuine crimes when they do occur. In addition, by creating laws that are wide open to abuse we risk giving a hammer-hand to those who might wish to abuse ill-founded laws by bringing challenges just to “chill” the opposition. Can an objective observer of Canada’s litigation history over the past few years say that such challenges are not already amongst us? Hardly.

Just how do we accommodate divergent beliefs? That is what it is really all about and what we at the Centre are interested in. Court experiences on the "same-sex marriage cases" have shown that neither side can convince the other, that litigation is a win/loss game that nobody actually wins (society is the loser) and that we have to move to arguments about "how we live together and on what principles.”

On marriage that means re-thinking the public dimension of marriage (see our last newsletter Centrepoints 11 for a discussion about whether Canada should consider “civil unions”). These questions need to be addressed much more than they are at the moment - - by all sides of the issue. On education that means re-thinking the content of public education in light of divergent beliefs (with sex as with religion - - see a recent Blog on the point); again, both sides need to rethink this.

Iain T. Benson©