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Same-sex marriages (SSMs) in Canada

Complaints before the Alberta Human Rights
Commission
re: Bishop Henry's pastoral letter. Part 2

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This is a continuation of a previous essay

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The applicable Alberta legislation:

The basic question is whether Bishop Henry has committed an offense under the Alberta Human Rights, Citizenship and Multiculturalism Act when he published his letter concerning SSM on 2005-JAN. 1

Section 3(1) of that act states:

"No person shall publish, issue or display or cause to be published, issued or displayed before the public any statement, publication, notice, sign, symbol, emblem or other representation that:

(a) indicates discrimination or an intention to discriminate against a person or a class of persons, or

(b) is likely to expose a person or a class of persons to hatred or contempt because of the race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income or family status of that person or class of persons." 2

Although sexual orientation was not included in the act as passed by the legislature, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Commission has a note on their web site which states:

"Although it is not expressly stated in the Act, as of April 2, 1998, sexual orientation is 'read in' to the Act by the Supreme Court of Canada as a protected ground of discrimination in Alberta." 30

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The Human Rights Commission's resolution process:

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported:

"Mary Riddle, director of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, says she can't discuss specific complaints, but that an attempt will be made to resolve it through conciliation.

'That's the first step, and it's like mediation. The parties get together with a staff person from the commission, talk about the issue and try to find some common ground, try to resolve the issue,' Riddle said.

If conciliation doesn't work, a complaint is investigated and could be put to a panel which would decide whether there has been a breach of the Charter. The process could take up to a year.

Failing a successful outcome to the conciliation process, the complaint will be investigated by the commission and potentially put to a panel who will decide whether there have been any charter breach. That process could take up to a year." 4

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Are the complaints before the Human Rights Commission reasonable?

Reactions to Bishop Henry's pastoral letter has concentrated on four of its passages:

  1. The Roman Catholic Church opposes homosexual behavior and SSM. It refuses to marry two persons of the same gender. It also has occasionally refused to marry couples in which one is disabled and unable to engage in sexual intercourse. Bishop Henry wrote that the church considers:

    "...marriage to be a sacrament, a sacred covenant in which husband and wife express their mutual love, and join with God in the creation of a new human person, destined for eternal life..... A same-sex union is not a physical union that transmits human life, producing children. A same-sex union is not the joining of two complementary natures that complete each other."1

    Bishop Henry does not seem to be fully explaining the Church's position. The church makes exceptions of this rule and will marry opposite-sex couples who are infertile either because the man has incurable erectile disfunction, or the woman is past menopause or has had a hystorectomy, etc.

  2. He wrote:
    "...homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society."
    Here, he links homosexuality with one behavior that is generally considered to be immoral (adultery) and two behaviors that can be a criminal act (soliciting for the purposes of prostitution, and possession of certain kinds of pornography).

    It is not clear what Bishop Henry meant by the word "homosexuality."

    bullet It could refer to persons who have a homosexual orientation as opposed to a heterosexual or bisexual orientation.

    bullet It could refer to persons who engage in same-sex behavior.

    We suspect that it is the latter. Religious conservatives generally refer to behavior when they use the term "homosexuality." Religious liberals, gays, lesbians, human sexuality researchers, mental health therapists etc. generally describe homosexuality as a sexual orientation -- a measure of one's feelings of attraction to persons of the same gender.

  3. He wrote:
    "The state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."
    The word "them" in this case appears to refer to people who commit acts involving homosexual behavior, adultery, or prostitution, as well those who possess pornography.

    The term "coercive power" itself was not clear at the time that the complaints were made. It might imply that homosexual behavior, adultery, and possession of pornographic images should be criminalized and that penalties for soliciting for prostitution be continued. This may contradict Church teaching on homosexuality. in 1992, the Vatican issued a new Catechism for the church. It states that gays and lesbians:
    "...do not choose their homosexual condition; for most of them it is a trial. ...One must avoid all unjust discrimination against them."5
    The church believes that there are both just and unjust forms of discrimination against gays and lesbians. For example, they advocate that homosexuals be excluded from marriage and from certain professions. But, to our knowledge, they do not now advocate jailing adults for private, consensual same-sex behavior.

  4. He wrote:
    "Furthermore, an evil act remains an evil act whether it is performed in public or in private."
    The church teaches that homosexual activity is sinful. The precise meaning of the term "evil" in Bishop Henry's letter is not clear. It may simply refer to sinful behavior. Some consider "evil" an extremely pejorative term that goes well beyond mere sin.

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This topic is continued in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. F.B. Henry, "On Same-Sex Marriage," 2005-JAN, at: http://www.rcdiocese-calgary.ab.ca/
  2. "Human rights, citizenship and multiculturalism act," Queen's Printer, at: http://www.qp.gov.ab.ca/
  3. Bill Graveland, "Position on same-sex marriage prompts complaints against Calgary bishop," Canadian Press, 2005-MAR-30, at: http://start.shaw.ca/
  4. "Bishop defends anti-gay remarks," CBC Calgary, 2005-MAR-31, at: http://calgary.cbc.ca/
  5. Topic # 2358 in the English version of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

 

  1. Bill Graveland, "Position on same-sex marriage prompts complaints against Calgary bishop," Canadian Press, 2005-MAR-30, at: http://start.shaw.ca/
  2. "Human Rights Complaint Filed Against Catholic Bishop for Defence of Traditional Marriage
    Calgary Bishop Fred Henry Defends Religious Freedom
    ," LifeSiteNews, 2005-MAR-30, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  3. "Human rights complaint filed against Canadian bishop," Catholic World News, 2005-MAR-31, at: http://www.cwnews.com/
  4. "Bishop defends anti-gay remarks," CBC Calgary, 2005-MAR-31, at: http://calgary.cbc.ca/
  5. "David Mainse' Letter to the Queen," Marriage Canada, at: http://www.marriagecanada.ca/
  6. "Defending Marriage," The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, at: http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca
  7. Lorne Gunter, "Gay? Cool. Christian? Not so much," National Post, 2005-APR-11, Page A16.
  8. F.B. Henry, "On Same-Sex Marriage," 2005-JAN, at: http://www.rcdiocese-calgary.ab.ca/

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Copyright © 2005 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Initial posting: 2005-NOV-03
Latest update: 2012-JUL-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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