Dignity Canada Dignité

Following the Department of Justice Discussion Paper "Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-Sex Unions", the House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights traveled across Canada in 2003 to hear from Canadians on how to reconcile the traditional definition of marriage and the recognition of gay and lesbian unions within the framework of the Canadian Constitution and its equality guarantees. Following is a brief submitted by Kevin Simpson of Vancouver.

Brief to the Justice and Human Rights Committee
on the matter of Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions

Submitted by Kevin Simpson, President
Dignity Canada Dignité
April, 2003

The position of Dignity Canada Dignité with respect to Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions is that the overriding principle of equality should be the basis on which decisions about this matter are made.  Therefore, we support extending equal marriage rights to same-sex couples.

The other options being considered during these hearings would entrench the inequality which now exists, and in some cases diminish the importance of marriage for those in heterosexual relationships.  The proposal to consider these other options could be perceived by some as waving a red flag in front of those who cherish the institution of marriage, in the hopes that sufficient outrage would be elicited in support of denying equality to gay men and lesbians.  Contrary to what even some members of parliament have said recently, granting same-sex couples equality in access to marriage would not compel any religion to participate, but would give the option of a civil marriage to all couples who choose it.

I am personally qualified to speak to this issue as I have lived with my life-partner now for 26 years, and would have chosen marriage if that option had been available those many years ago.  In the intervening time, we have worked together as a couple, within a Roman Catholic and Anglican faith context, in support of many of the advances which have been achieved by gay and lesbian people over the years.  We have been open and interactive with our families, sharing with them many of the successes and difficulties which have characterized our lives together.

As an organization of gay and lesbian Roman Catholics and friends, Dignity Canada Dignité speaks with a more progressive voice than some other Roman Catholic representatives who may appear before you.  We speak more from the heart of the faithful than those who are obligated to espouse official church teaching in obedience to Rome, or those employed by the church.  We claim this based on observable facts that most of you will know from first-hand experience within your own communities.  Consider, for example, that the issue at hand was one of restricting the access to modern birth control methods. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops or its representatives might well appear before you to support such a move.  However, as you know and the bishops themselves well know, from the evidence of average family size, the Catholic faithful no longer follow in good conscience the church’s teaching on birth control, and the bishops cannot therefore credibly speak for the church on this issue.  Similarly, we contend that if the polls taken to measure the support for the equality of marriage for all couples were analyzed on the basis of religious affiliation, a proportionate number of Roman Catholics would be found to be supportive of this change.  The fact is that the Catholic faithful are more informed about this issue than are the hierarchy of the Church because they encounter the reality of gay men and lesbians in their daily lives through their children and extended family, those they work and socialize with, and in some cases their spouses.  We as an organization speak for this more informed lay component of the church.

On a personal note again, I point to the experience of a surprise 25th anniversary celebration given by friends for my partner and me.  Our parents were in attendance, along with family members and their spouses.  My aunt who is a nun sent congratulations to us, and there were other women religious with us that day to celebrate, along with our friends from a range of denominations.  But our anniversary celebrates the date we began to share our lives in relative secret together as cohabitants, not the joyful joining of two lives in a public ceremony with friends and family.  It is this kind of inequality which will be perpetuated by any other option than marriage for same-sex couples.  It might be useful to look at how this will be the case for the specific options.

The proposal to create a new federal law to explicitly set out marriage as an opposite-sex institution would entrench inequality and set the stage for unequal treatment of same-sex relationships regardless of attempts to overcome this.  The creation of a registry to be deemed equivalent to marriage for same-sex couples, could get the federal government off the hook in terms of equality with respect to federal laws and programs, but would lead to a patchwork of approaches by the provinces who would likely challenge the constitutional authority of the federal government to create such an equivalent registry.  In the process of letting the courts once again sort out the confusion created by a registry, gay men and lesbians in committed relationships would continue to be treated differently in each of the provinces.  My reading of the Discussion Paper for these hearings makes it clear that the federal government was given the jurisdiction over who qualified for marriage in order to avoid such inequality of treatment.  Therefore, if parliament has in its wisdom, extended the equivalent benefits and obligations of the common-law marriage status to same-sex couples as to opposite-sex couples, it would seem to follow that the same principles should apply to marriage.  This would give the consistency that those who drafted the constitution were trying to achieve.

The proposal to no longer be involved in the legality of marriage, but instead leave it to the religions is completely unworkable.  Firstly, it is not consistent with the values of the Canadians in the present day, many of whom do not have any religious observance as an ongoing part of their lives.  Second, the requirement of the cooperation of the provinces is unachievable for many reasons.  There is no financial incentive for this cooperation; my experience of growing up in Alberta leads me to think that this would be perceived as another instance of Ottawa “shoving it down our throats”, and therefore a non-starter; and the more overt use of religious leaders as instruments of the government in the registry process would be perceived as an imposition by them and increase the debate within religious communities as to whether they should be in the “business” of marriage at all.  Same-sex couples under such a system would have to seek out religious communities who would perform the marriage, regardless of their personal religious affiliation.  This could present further complications.  Some pastors currently refuse to perform marriages for opposite-sex couples who are not affiliated with their congregations.  For example, if a couple decides to choose a particularly picturesque church for their wedding, or one near their desired reception location, or one for any number of other non-religious reasons, pastors often refuse to perform the service or allow the use of their facilities.

We consider that reasonable at present; would it be reasonable if only religious officials were sanctioned to perform marriages?

Dignity Canada Dignité as an organization is concerned that the best decision be made regarding the legal recognition of same-sex unions, as the Roman Catholic church is unlikely to move to welcome gay men and lesbians any time in the near future.  For those denominations which want to deal honestly and openly with the honouring of individuals in committed relationships, a decision to open marriage to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples would simplify the process by which they embrace that equality of relationships.  Instead of labouring long over what the same-sex commitment would be called and how it would differ from marriage, the decision would simply be if and when to proceed with including same-sex couples in the marriage rite.  We think that the polls which are documented in the Discussion Paper accurately reflect the changing public opinion on the matter.  Michael Marzolini in summarizing a Pollara Inc. poll taken at the dawn of this century stated that “A majority of Canadians anticipate … and believe that gay and lesbian marriages will be as common as heterosexual marriage.” by the year 2010.  In particular the upcoming generations are shown to be decidedly in favour of proceeding on this matter.


The recommendation Dignity Canada Dignité makes to this committee is that it ask parliament to proceed with legislation to give same-sex couples the legal capacity to marry.

Canadians’ Attitude Toward the 21st Century
Michael Marzolini, Chairman of Pollara Inc.