Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Appearing Before the Senate Standing Committee on Bill C-38 (same-sex marriage)

On July 14, 2005, just over a month from my appearance before the House Committee on Bill C-38, I appeared before the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legislative Affairs. The House appearance led to amendments; my hope was that the Senate would be equally solicitous.

These hopes were in vain. The Senate was in too much of a rush to be the sober chamber of second thought envisioned by John A. MacDonald so many years ago.

The invitation to appear before them was finally confirmed by the Clerk of the Committee on the Friday before the Tuesday I was to appear. The Senate was in a great rush to get the Bill passed. Everyone hoped that there was a chance they would suggest some badly needed amendments to the Bill. Fat chance as it turned out.

The hearing itself was a dignified process with the usual formality of such things. Translation, time periods for opening witness statements (10 minutes) and then limited questioning from Senators who sought to get their name on the Speaker’s list.

As the M.P.’s before the House Committee, several of the Senators seemed interested as to why religious groups were concerned about a mere “civil marriage” extension.

The transcript will give the details since the Senate Committee meetings were not televised. A rare exception was made the day after our panel presentation when Cardinal Ouellette of Montreal was to appear. Other testimonies and exchanges were captured only by text.

The overall atmosphere was one of measured consideration though the contempt some of the Senators have for religion in general and Catholicism in particular was fairly obvious. The rolling of eyes and theatrical sighs of some Senators will not be captured in the transcript but were evident in the Hearing room. Senators are appointed and got there, usually, for being political supporters. It was good to keep this in mind.

The witnesses throughout the day were intelligent and articulate and all affirmed the right of religious people to dissent from same-sex marriage if they wished to. Time will tell if this is simply window dressing and whether such people will eventually speak out when religious positions are deemed bigoted and discriminatory. Should this happen, as many predict, it will be a good idea to hold these people accountable - - if they are still around; Professor Bruce Ryder for example.

I sat through the entire day’s proceedings which was a good idea as it gave me a chance to hear what the Senator’s themselves were hearing. It was the usual rhetoric of the benefits of recognition to be given from the same-sex inclusion to marriage versus those who say that the inclusion is not a simple inclusion and will dissolve a previously shared understanding.

In my own testimony later, I suggested that there were various views about same-sex marriage inclusion that were “naive.” This did not go down well with several Senators who were not used to having their views criticized this way. I provided chapter and verse showing that there is a strategy out there to attack marriage and the family. I was careful to say that not all same-sex marriage activists support the attack on heterosexual only marriage and the heterosexually based family, but I did not hold back from giving evidence that some do wish to see traditional marriage destroyed.

Some of the Senators did not like this. They wished to occupy the rosy- lens land of their own creating undisturbed by inharmonious colour combinations. This was the effect of all the panellists on the panel I was on.

It was, except for me, a panel of McGill Professors: Margaret Somerville, Kathyrn Young and Daniel Cere. They are all experts in different aspects of the marriage debates and the effect of a same-sex marriage change on the family, children and culture. All have been attacked for their positions and maintain them courageously against the Zeitgeistian waves.

They were listened to but not given questions that were up to the level of the points they had made. The Senators’ questions were not impressive and, on occasion, were superficial and embarrassing. They did not show great insight or the ability to rise beyond the cheap pre-packaged rhetoric of the day. It was most disappointing.

My own evidence took the form of suggesting some minor but important amendments to the Bill where it was clear that the Bill contained errors and omissions. Those comments can be found in the Brief to the Senate which is on the Centre’s website (click here).

Following the panel (we were the last ones of the day) I was taken to one side by a Senator and told that “of course” all that we have said and all that anyone would say would be “of no use” since “the Government wants the Bill passed right away and has told the Senate that.”

I asked whether there was any sense of the independence of the Senate or the proper process still alive and was told that it was effectively dead.

It is fashionable to speak of a democratic deficit in certain western countries. Canada has more than that. It is a country increasingly ruled by spin and craft against the honest review of major issues. We are a country in deep decline.

That the matters raised by my fellow panellists (the effects on children and society) have been overlooked systematically by courts and politics shows that Canada is now on course to be ruled by those who can command rhetoric against the force of analysis. This is a sad day for Canada and we can justly lament where this is leading us.

Iain T. Benson ©