Why I Support Making Commissioners Wed Gays

February 19th, 2007

Cold Virus Makes Me Post A Mailbag Segment

Well, folks, a gang of microscopic germs have decided it would be convenient to set up shop inside my throat. I’m feeling lousy. So, I’m posting a response from the Slap Upside The Head Mailbag!

A visitor (from back in November) writes:

Why do you object to parents being notified if their kids are going to take a class on gay issues? And why does it bother you that some people do not wish to administer marriage vows to gay/lesbian couples?

Mark responds (again, back in November):

Thanks for writing; I appreciate your questions!

First, I’d like to clarify that I don’t have a problem with clergy refusing to officiate over same-sex weddings. Clergymen are performing a religious ceremony on behalf of the church, and are absolutely free to abide by the rules of the church. Many churches, for example, do not permit inter-faith marriage and will refuse to officiate over such ceremonies. This is within their constitutional right.

My objection is rather to the notion that a Justice of the Peace or civil marriage commissioner could refuse to perform their services to a same-sex couple. Unlike a clergyman, JOPs and commissioners are not religious ambassadors, and the services they are providing are on behalf of the state, not the church. For a state-sanctioned commissioner to refuse a marriage license to a gay couple would be kind of like a state-sanctioned private registrar refusing to issue a drivers license to someone of a profoundly different faith.

On a personal note, I absolutely agree with a person’s right to religious expression. However, I do think it’s a bit of a stretch for someone to claim their religious beliefs forbid them from interacting with same-sex couples in a job capacity.

As for the school notifications, I assume this is a reference to Ted Morton’s Bill 208, which stated that parents would have to be notified before a teacher acknowledges the existence of same-sex marriage in Canada.

Given that same-sex marriage does exist in Canada, I feel this is an awfully heavy-handed restriction to be written into law. The most outspoken opponent of this bill was the Alberta Teacher’s Association. My objections are the same as theirs. To require parental notification before acknowledging any potentially contentious topic effectively muzzles spontaneous discussion. A teacher would have to refuse to answer student questions on the topic and halt student reports. This gags discussions on the constitutional, social, political, and economic aspects, and I firmly believe that it’s important for students to develop sound discussion skills.

Beyond that objection, I also think that since other contentious topics (war, abortion, divorce) are not given the same treatment, this law would single out discussions about same-sex marriage as posing a unique hazard. This is not a fair message to gay and lesbian students, and their peers.

Incidentally, there are no courses in Alberta that discuss same-sex marriage as part of the curriculum. There is a new “Social Issues” course being offered in B.C. for 2008, and that includes a unit on gay issues. However, this course is offered to senior students in high school only, and is purely an elective. Parents should always discuss which electives their children take.

So there you have it: My lazy “Sick Day” post! Do you agree? Disagree? If you’d like to send a letter for a future mailbag post, don’t forget to visit the stupendous About Page!

Well, I’m off to get some rest and drink plenty of fluids. Until Wednesday, folks!

Update: Thanks to everyone who sent me “get well” notes, and to the very many more of you who wrote to point out the hilarious ambiguity in this post’s title. At my own discretion, I respectfully refuse to clarify which interpretation is accurate. ;-)

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