Dignity Canada Dignité
Tim Ryan is a Toronto Catholic priest who has been suspended by the Archdiocese of Toronto for publicly supporting same-sex marriages. He may no longer celebrate mass in public or preach in a church.

Same-sex marriage:
A Catholic priest dissents
Toronto Star Opinion/Editorial page February 29, 2004

For many months now, Canada's Catholic bishops have conducted a vigorous public campaign in opposition to the federal government's decision not to appeal provincial court decisions and to draft legislation redefining marriage, for civil purposes, as "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others." As a member of the Church who has spent much of his professional life as a social activist, I am happy to see our bishops encouraging full public participation in our society.

Reluctantly, however, I have been forced to enter into public debate with them on the position they have adopted on same-sex marriage and on the manner in which they have promoted it.

Particularly in matters of human rights and government social policy, our bishops have to know that many, in good conscience, will have come to a position different than theirs. Yet they have chosen to imbue this particular issue with the qualities of a righteous crusade where the very underpinnings of our society are seen to be at stake. They seem to consider themselves thereby justified in pursuing a no-holds-barred suppression of any discussion or dissent.

Perhaps the best way to situate my own position on this matter is to share some personal background.

For the last 30 years, I have struggled, along with many others, to develop mutual support structures for gays, lesbians and other sexual minorities within a church that has remained generally inhospitable to the acceptance of such human diversity.

While many Catholic gays and lesbians have left the Church behind or have opted to move on to more welcoming Christian communities, some of us have chosen to remain.

In addition to trying to create and maintain a small welcoming community within the church, we have tried to engage in patient dialogue with the larger church — to share our reality and experience and to help our church deal with a human sexual orientation spectrum that is far richer and more diverse than was traditionally envisioned.

Over these three decades of experience in the gay community I have been gifted by getting to know, and often privileged to minister to, a great number of committed gay couples.

All abstract theoretical arguments aside, I genuinely cannot even imagine how the legal recognition of these already existing, loving human relationships would do anything but help to strengthen and enrich our society.

I suspect that other Canadians who are personally acquainted with gay or lesbian couples would be equally at a loss to see how publicly recognizing their unions would in any way undermine the institution of marriage or society itself. Many Canadians and many Catholics are convinced that our courts and government have got it right. Imposing "separate but equal" qualifications on the rights of minorities is inconsistent with our Charter of Rights. Recognizing minority rights is often difficult and painful for the rest of society. That is why fundamental human rights simply cannot be left at the mercy of majority political opinion.

My own understanding of fundamental Christian bias is that we should always strive to approach such painful social struggles by first seeking to understand the perspective of those currently excluded from fair and equal treatment as children of God. Contrary to the contention of the bishops, I believe that a society with institutions capable of courageously recognizing full minority rights will not only survive but be immeasurably enriched. Over the many months since our bishops began their energetic campaign of opposition to the judgments of our courts and government, I have been in fundamental disagreement with them.

I must confess that, as a recently retired person, anxious to get on with other goals in life, I chose not to get publicly involved — even in the face of a number of requests to do so. Finally, last July, I did agree to submit a personal affidavit to the Supreme Court expressing my support of the decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal and the federal government's policy of proposing legislation that would extend marriage rights to same-sex couples.

On the basis of that intervention, I have since been stripped of my ability to serve in public ministry in my church — a penalty I feel to be profoundly unjust. But if the price of siding publicly with our courts and government in their efforts to extend basic human rights to a minority in Canada in the year 2004 requires that I pay this heavy a price within my own church community, then I feel very deeply saddened, but at peace with my decision.

Dignity Canada Dignité is Canada's organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about our church's sexual theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.