OPINION Bishops are crossing line in same-sex debate, says Paul Willcocks. Embrace respect and tolerance
VICTORIA – The Catholic Church’s leap into the same-sex marriage debate demonstrates a bold combination of arrogance and blindness.
Back in 1960, John Kennedy’s election as U.S. president was hailed as a breakthrough. No one had thought a Roman Catholic could win the top job in the U.S.
Now Canada’s Catholic bishops are doing their best to turn back the clock more than 40 years.
The bishops are pressuring Prime Minister Jean Chretien, successor Paul Martin and other Catholic MPs to pass a new law banning same sex marriages. It’s gone beyond stating an opinion; Calgary Bishop Fred Henry says if the politicians don’t follow the Church’s doctrine on this issue, they’ll be risking their shot at heaven.
It seems pretty bold for the good bishop to usurp St. Peter’s role and consign Chretien to Hell before he’s even dead.
And it’s also pretty bold for the bishops to pick this particular issue of personal relationships to take such an extreme public stand. This is, after all, the same church hierarchy who exposed legions of children to abuse, while protecting their abusers.
Kennedy’s 1960 election win was a victory over prejudice and intolerance. He had to overcome the suggestion that voters couldn’t count on a Catholic politician to represent them, because his first loyalty would always be to the changing dictates of the church.
A succession of politicians have shown that fear to be groundless.
They have successfully balanced their beliefs and their duty to represent all citizens, not just the ones who share their religion. It’s an important distinction, one not made in many totalitarian countries around the world.
And now, sadly, the bishops want to demand obedience of Catholic politicians, under threat of hellfire.
It’s odd. Catholics have suffered in countries where intolerant governments have refused to recognize their right to freedom. And yet the church wants to impose its own intolerance on others.
The marriage issue is simple. Can two people of the same sex get a sheet of paper, issued by a government office, that says they are married?
The paper doesn’t extend their legal or economic rights, which have already been recognized. It doesn’t force churches to marry the couples.
Nothing changes except that two people can get a piece of paper that says they’re married.
That paper then means what people choose it to mean. Some gay couples will treasure it as a significant symbol of their commitment and love, while others will never bother to get married. Some families will find it a cause for a shared celebration, while others will reject it as a sham.
Everyone has the right to their beliefs. Just as same sex couples have the right to marriage, according to a string of court rulings.
That should be the end of it.
If you wish to believe that marriage should be reserved for people who are prepared to reproduce, or who are marrying within their faith, or for for those who have never been married before, that’s your right.
Just as others have the right to chose their own definition. It is, as my mother says, no skin off your nose.
Chretien and Martin have rejected the Church’s position. They have an obligation to govern for all Canadians, they say, not just the leaders of their own church. And a poll released this week found Canadians share their views – 53 per cent of Canadians support the right to same sex marriage, with support strongest among Catholics.
The Catholic Church has every right to express its views.
Just as Canadians – including Catholic politicians – have every right to reject them.
This debate should remind us that this country is best-served by values of respect and tolerance, qualities that a majority of Canadians embrace in both their actions and their beliefs.
Footnote: The Vatican’s official position on same sex marriage includes
this paragraph on adoption: “Allowing children to be adopted by persons
living in [gay] unions would actually mean doing violence to these
children.” It is sad to think that a church that tolerated real violence
against children, and protected those who committed crimes against them,
could make such an extreme and unjustified claim.
Quit fighting over native fishing
By Paul Willcocks
VICTORIA – The first step to resolving the current battle over native
and non-native fishing is for everybody to just calm down.
The anger of the people directly involved is understandable. They’ve
been jerked around by the federal fisheries department in a series of
changes that have brought nothing but instability and conflict.
But the last thing we need is for this to become the symbolic
battlefield for everyone with a beef about the treaty process or
grievances about the relationship between natives and non-natives in B.C.
It’s about fish, and who gets to make money by catching them. That’s
important to the people involved and their communities. But carving up a
finite resource should be a practical question, not an ideological one.
That’s why B.C. and Ottawa deserve credit for trying the quintessential
Canadian solution – a federal-provincial task force. Attorney General
Geoff Plant announced this week that UBC economic prof Peter Pearse
would be the province’s representative; Ottawa law professor Donald
McRae will be the federal nominee.
The Fraser River fishery isn’t large in terms of economic impact, worth
perhaps $200 million to $400 million depending on the run. But for
participants, it’s an important resource. And the federal government’s
heavy handed and arbitrary attempts to create a native fishery have
resulted in some families suddenly being handed prosperity – at the
expense of others.
Ottawa’s mismanagement has created a bitter pool of resentments and
recriminations. Two court rulings have rejected the fishery, finding
that discriminating against licensed fishermen is no way to redress past
Commercial fishermen and First Nations have defied the law. Some
fisheries officers fear an armed confrontation. Conservation has been
It’s a deeply unhealthy and unhelpful battle, one that holds no hope for
anything but conflict – either on the water or in the courts – while
threatening the fishery’s future and hurting everyone involved.
Plant said this week that it’s time for people to stop shouting at each
other and start talking about solutions. He’s right, although the
opposition Liberals did their part to crank up the rhetoric when they
attacked native-only fisheries as “morally, ethically and legally
wrong.” That led many supporters to expect the Liberals to oppose First
Nations’ fishing rights; instead they have accepted that guaranteed
fishing rights will be part of treaties. (The Tsawwassen First Nations
agreement-in-principle released this week looks toward a guaranteed
share of the Fraser River catch for the band.)
It’s also time to tone down the language. The term race-based fishery,
for example, is guaranteed to inflame passions – and inaccurate. The
fisheries so clumsily handed out to some First Nations could more
accurately be called community-based; other First Nations fishermen are
excluded as surely as non-natives. Looked at in that context, the
provision – if done fairly – need not be seen as much different than the
allocation of forest lands to community-based enterprises.
The task force has until the end of the year to come up with a blueprint
for the fishery in a post-treaty world. The issues they face are
fundamentally ones of resource management, allocation and equity. They
are concrete, and they can be solved.
The reality, painful as it may be at times, is that First Nations and
the federal and provincial governments have to sit down and come up with
treaties. They have to accept provisions they don’t like as part of that
And First Nations are coming to the table armed with court rulings that
give them a claim on a share of the fishing resource and a community
mandate to take advantage of that economic opportunity.
That will mean dislocation for some non-native fishermen; they deserve
fair compensation for any loss. The cost of treaty settlements shouldn’t
be borne by individuals.
But the bottom line is that we need treaties, morally, legally and to
end the uncertainty that is blocking investment in B.C. An emotional
fight over fishing rights shouldn’t be allowed to block the way forward.
Footnote: The willingness of the federal government to work on this
issue with B.C. is another sign of the improved relationship developed
by Gordon Campbell; Ottawa has traditionally been reluctant to
acknowledge a provincial role in fisheries, an area of federal