Assertion, unsupported by fact, is nugatory. Surmise and general abuse, in however elegant language, ought not to pass for truth. Junius

2005/01/20

Bad Cop, Good Cop

From the Cathedral Church of St Mary, Calgary, to St Michael's, Toronto: first Bishop Henry's pastoral letter, now Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic open letter to the Prime Minister published in the Globe and Mail. Bad cop, good cop. The phone lines between Calgary and Toronto must have been humming as the two prelates plotted their script: Bishop Henry as the junior "heavy", the Logan to Cardinal Ambrozic's Briscoe. Maybe they hired a media consultant.

Indeed, the Cardinal is all sweet reason and light. He publically worries about the effect same-sex marriage will have on Canadian society. (When you see a public figure publically worrying, you know it's time to get out the shovels.) He suggests that "unaccountable courts" are forcing the issue down the throats of Canadians. He presses the Prime Minister to invoke the notwithstanding clause --- effectively ending debate on the topic for five years --- and enact a traditional definition of marriage. This will give
this national discussion sufficient time to occur and to ripen into a sober and careful decision. It will give time for Canada to observe the social experiments now under way in Belgium and the Netherlands, and in other places where legislation implementing same-sex marriage might occur.

Leaving aside the handwringing and the debate on the proper place of the courts, the notion of invoking the notwithstanding clause is problematic, and I suspect the Cardinal is being disingenuous in making the argument. Cardinal Ambrozic does not address, of course, the small, practical problem of the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who have already married in good faith in jurisdictions permitting it. If the cardinal went out the back door of his Cathedral in Toronto and looked up Church Street, he'd probable see plenty of examples just a few blocks north. Do you suddenly and arbitrarily dissolve their marriages? Marriage is not just a religious sacrament; it has social, economic and legal implications as well. Cancelling thousands of marriages would be a lawyer's nightmare. Think of trying to sort out common property issues alone.

Then we go to the comical. The Cardinal writes:
The notwithstanding clause was inserted into the Charter to recognize parliamentary supremacy and the need for democratic oversight for courts. . . Fundamental social change should only occur with the consent of the people through their democratic institutions. This understanding of the role of Parliament led to the inclusion of the notwithstanding clause in the Charter. Its use in the context of same-sex marriage would be most appropriate.

For years, all we have heard from opponents of same sex marriage is that the matter must be decided by Parliament; Parliament should be the supreme arbitor of such momentous issues; and that the governing party was hiding under the skirts of the Supreme Court. Now that the Supreme Court has finally and decidedly tossed the ball back to Parliament, we should --- defer the issue for another five years, prevent Parliament from voting on the issue, to allow for a more perfect ripening of the issue? It's rather a puzzle to argue for parliamentary supremacy in one breath, then argue Parliament should evade its responsibility --- again --- in the next.

Cardinal Ambrozic hopes a period of "ripening" of public opinion will mean that public opinion will mobilize against gay marriage. Maybe he's hoping that in five years there will be a groundswell for a constitutional amendment such as the one proposed in the United States, though it's hard to see exactly how, since it would require unanimous consent of Parliament and the provinces. Or maybe he hopes Parliament will invoke the notwithstanding clause forever. He does know though, that five years in politics approximately equals eternity.

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