Musings Of A Spiritual Atheist
Civil Unions

Sometimes when same sex marriage is being discussed it has been proposed that the question be resolved by establishing another legal union for same sex couples, that of civil unions. These are usually described as being the same as or parallel to marriage, but using a different term, one in which the legal rights mimic the rights flowing from being in a marriage. Opponents of same sex marriages will sometimes propose same sex civil unions when it becomes clear that some form of legal recognition is going to take place. This is not because those groups are in favour of recognising legal unions for same sex couples, but as a last ditch means of preserving the term “marriage” for heterosexual unions.

There is an expression used, often in politics, that says, “If it looks like a duck, and it walks like a duck, and it quacks like a duck, it is a duck”. It is used when someone is pretending to be doing something other than what they are actually doing, trying to hide their real intent. In this context, the reverse is taking place. To ask it bluntly, if a civil union is a marriage under another name, why is it not called a marriage? The answer is that civil unions are not marriages. That is why they are called "civil unions". The term is used to specifically differentiate them from marriages, to pointedly make clear that those in a civil union are not in a marriage, but something else. The whole point to having civil unions is to avoid same sex marriage, to set up a final sugar-coated barrier to equality, while retaining separation.

Homosexuals who want to be married have, in some jurisdictions, accepted civil unions, but I suspect it is because it is a case of that or nothing. To those people a little advance is better than no advance, and who can blame them for accepting a small step forward towards their eventual goal. Canada, however, has a constitution that demands all Canadians be treated the same. Civil unions could only be used if heterosexual couples were also required to be legally joined in such a system, and what would be the point of doing that? There would be no point, since the sole purpose of civil unions is to treat same sex couples differently than opposite sex couples. In other words, the purpose is discrimination.

This strategy, of having two separate but equal jurisdictions for the same thing has been used before. An example would be in the educational system in some states in the USA, where race based education separated one group from another. The intent was "separate but equal", but that was merely a slogan and the two systems were grossly unequal. So it is with the “separate but equal” division between marriage and civil unions. They would not be guaranteed equality, since the separate names and forms would enable future legislation to target one or the other preferentially. If the two are both formally recognised as marriages, and identified by that term, then anything that affects one Canadian will affect other Canadians to the exact same degree, guaranteeing full and undisputed equality as our Charter of Rights and Freedoms demands.

Fortunately, the courts in Canada have clearly said that refusing marriage to same sex couples violates their human rights as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, particularly the right to equal treatment and the right not be subjected to discrimination. In fact, sexual orientation, along with some others, is specifically mentioned as being a forbidden basis for discrimination in order to give added weight to the freedom. No amount of legislation can change that, and any law arbitrarily restricting it would be unreasonable and unjustified, and therefore unconstitutional.

The effect unreasonable restrictions like that would have is to actively inhibit the freedom of those whose right is being curtailed. Restricting the rights of homosexuals to live their lives in freedom therefore contravenes the Charter in its most fundamental aspect. How ironic, that Charter Rights guaranteeing religious freedom are being used by religious Canadians to urge that Charter Rights of homosexual Canadians be curtailed.

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