Canada takes stand for equality
The Minneapolis Star Tribune said the following in an editorial:
MINNEAPOLIS — Canada, like the United States, is a nation of immigrants, a nation that respects and protects minority rights. While it frequently chafes at being overshadowed by the superpower to its south, Canada this week took a step Americans will someday emulate. It legalized gay marriages in the name of equality.
Why do we believe the trend will spread, when today's most vigorous efforts on the subject go in the opposite direction? Because people's concepts of equality evolve. Just as the United States came to realize women deserved the right to vote, just as it later realized the rights of people from different races to marry each other, we are convinced that it eventually will accept the reasoning that has led the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and now Canada to recognize same-sex marriages.
That's why it is dismaying that Minnesotans will likely spend next year arguing whether the state Constitution should be changed to specifically disallow gay marriage, and even civil unions. Gov. Tim Pawlenty, while indicating support for some kind of protection for gay couples, stops short of civil unions. And his party appears ready to make the constitutional amendment a major goal.
Our hope is that Minnesotans, like many Canadians, will begin to look at the issue in terms of equality. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, in a long, impassioned address, demonstrated how quickly people's views can change when they begin to look at it from this perspective. On Feb. 16, he said to the House of Commons, "I rise in support of Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act. I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law. ... Our deliberations will be not merely about a piece of legislation ... more deeply, they will be about the kind of nation we are today, and the nation we want to be." Martin pointed out that four years ago he voted to support the traditional definition of marriage, explaining, "My misgivings about extending the right of civil marriage to same-sex couples were a function of my faith, my perspective on the world around us.
"But much has changed since that day. We've heard from courts across the country, including the Supreme Court. We've come to the realization that instituting civil unions — adopting a 'separate but equal' approach — would violate the equality provisions of the Charter. We've confirmed that extending the right of civil marriage to gays and lesbians will not in any way infringe on religious freedoms."
What Americans can learn from Martin's transformation, and that of many Canadians, is that religious freedom and a minority's right to equality can go hand in hand under the Constitution just as they now do under Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. No religious entity is compelled to marry a same-sex couple in Canada. This law is about civil marriage. What various religious entities do is entirely up to them. Canada is therefore free to protect the minority rights of gays and lesbians, and religions are free to marry or not to marry as their faiths dictate. These are two separate issues.
As people the world over have come to recognize that homosexuality is not a "lifestyle choice" but a fact of life, more and more are beginning to realize that same-sex couples deserve the same respect and protection that traditional couples have had. There are many ways to protect such couples, as evidenced in the differing laws of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, New Zealand and Finland — each of which grants registered same-sex partners the same or similar rights as married couples. But Americans, sooner or later, would do well to separate in their minds civil and religious marriage rights — and ultimately confer civil rights to this minority population.