Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Brief Hiatus

Just a quick note to say that this space will start updating early in the new year - while I enjoy a break (not to mention an normally quiet period of time in the news).

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

How Can a Conservative Support Same-Sex Rights?

I was going to spend today going through some of the 'anti' arguments that I had found - but then I ran across the following little tidbit:

Rigidity of beliefs:

We have exchanged Emails with hundreds of visitors to this web site about the Bible and homosexuality. Most fall into one of two groups:

bulletReligious liberals promote homosexual ordinations, same-sex marriage, civil union ceremonies in the church, equal protection under hate-crime legislation, protection against discrimination in employment, etc. as fundamental human rights issues.
bulletReligious conservatives feel that the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior is always a serious sin. Allowing sexually active gays and lesbians to be ordained, or to have their committed relationships recognized by the church would involve a drastic and unacceptable lowering of church standards. The church would be condoning sin. They also oppose including sexual orientation in hate-crime and anti-discrimination legislation.

We have been unable to change the beliefs or actions of any of these hundreds of people on even one point related to homosexuality. Their views appear to be fixed. It is doubtful that much progress towards compromise on homosexual rights can be made by means of dialogue. We don't expect that the attached essays will change the beliefs of many visitors to this web site. However, the essays may help people understand opinions that are not their own.

As much fun as I might have dissecting the arguments made against legalizing same-sex marriage, I doubt that it would be meaningful to anyone opposed to same-sex marriages - they are relatively unlikely to be swayed by my arguments any more than I am like to be persuaded of their positions.

However, an interesting notion did occur to me that bears following through.

Consider that the whole gay rights movement is based on section 15(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Okay, fine - the wording is pretty clear, and I think the direction of the 'Gay Rights' activists is equally clear.

The various 'anti gay rights' groups have a variety of arguments against this - largely based around either religious foundations or some idealized notion of family structure that has never been overly realistic. (The details are moot)

Premier Ralph Klein has been running around shooting his mouth off arguing that the so-called "not-withstanding" clause (section 33) of the Charter of Rights be invoked to reinforce a law rendering same-sex marriage illegal.

At first, this would seem to be quite the trump card - after all section 33 can be used to override any section of the Charter pretty much arbitrarily.

However, Section 33(3) imposes a mandatory sunset clause at the end of 5 years. Parliament is required to either review and re-enact the invocation of section 33 every 5 years - otherwise the 'protection' lapses.

Do the anti-gay rights people _really_ want to engage in this same debate every 5 years? I doubt it. Not only is it emotionally exhausting, but it is also extremely expensive.

Second, even if Parliament does enact a law that renders same-sex marriages "illegal" in Canada, they effectively open the government up to repeated challenges in the courts of each piece and clause of legislation that refers to married couples. Even if a same-sex marriage is not recognized in Canada, the argument around section 15 now applies to a much broader group of people.

The gay rights activists have an almost endless pool of challenges to put before the courts - the term marriage is woven throughout the texts of our laws in many places. Each clause, and law, can be challenged individually.

Now, what's the consequence of this? Each law gets challenged before the courts, one at a time, one clause at a time. Parliament is then forced to decided, one law at a time, if it is reasonable to apply section 33 of the Charter. If you think that this is expensive, you're correct.

What's being put forth today is in fact the inexpensive solution. Expand the definition of Secular Marriage, and you don't have to re-evaluate each and every occurrance of legislation for compliance with equality.

Now, of course, it is conceivable that anti same-sex marriage campaigners could demand that a prohibitive law be enacted using clauses that are sweeping in their scope to attempt to cover this hole up. However, we would still be in for a seemingly infinite series of challenges in the courts as to whether the wording of those clauses applies in specific situations. (Lawyers are amazing nitpicks over details)

The religious conservatives are, of course, going to be quite willing to spend billions of taxpayer's dollars on this. I suspect that the majority of others are less inclined to spend money like that...

Monday, December 20, 2004

The Charter of Rights and Freedoms

One of the readers of this space left a very interesting comment on my last post:

The problem with using the Charter as an argument for anything is that the people who are usually against that something are also the same people who don't like the Charter to begin with. It started with Trudeau and gives those pesky judges a reason dont-ya-know. More than enough reason to get rid of it.
Fundamentally, he's probably right. The various people that oppose things like same-sex marriage don't typically like various aspects of the Charter. Of course, watch them run to its protections when _their_ particular viewpoint is perceived to be threatened - e.g. the recent furore of bill C-251 which amended sections 318 and 319 of the Criminal Code of Canada.

Whether we "like" the Charter or not is a moot point. The fact is that it is there now, and forms a part of the legal foundations of this nation. I have all sorts of disagreements with Pierre Trudeau's policies and vision, but in crafting the language of our Constitution and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, he did an outstanding job. I don't think he foresaw half of the discussions that are now whirling around that document, but I must admit to a certain admiration for its "completeness through simplicity". That which isn't expressed directly can be inferred from the openness of the clauses involved.

In some respects, we are living today in what could be called "Pierre Trudeau's Great Social Experiment". It will be most interesting to see where it leads.

Friday, December 17, 2004

The Language of Marriage

Our nation is caught in the throes of a debate over the topic of marriage at the moment. It is a debate that is highly charged, and filled with emotionally loaded phrases and mythology.

In reading a 'Letter to the Editor' in the December 16 Calgary Herald, it occurred to me that the discussion is going off without a common understanding of the terminology. As a result, there is a huge gap in the attempts to communicate between the 'pro' and 'anti' parts of this discussion.

This letter was particularly astonishing not only in the vitriol that it spewed forth, but also in the sheer misconceptions of the author about same-sex couples.

First and foremost, the author repeated an old saw about AIDS being essentially a gay disease; second, the author further perpetuated some decidedly questionable myths about gay sexuality (in particular promiscuity), but also about the 'purpose' of marriages. (Apparently, in this author's mind, marriage equals sex somehow - truthfully, successful marriages are not built around sex per se - those relationships that are tend not to last very long)

Anyhow, rather than spend my time debunking the mythology that seems to surround the behaviour of homosexual people (there seems to be rather a particular hang up over homosexual _male_ conduct floating around), I thought I might spend a bit of time at least trying to put forth the terminology of the debate as I understand it. So at least the readers of this space will have an understanding of what some of the terminology means to this writer.

1. Marriage

This is a two part discussion to me, and the two parts are discrete from each other. I divide it into secular and spiritual (or religious) components. The reason for this is quite simple. The government has long recognized marriages conducted outside of the sanctuary of religious institutions, and granted those marraiges the same recognition and privileges that a marriage conducted within a religious context enjoys.

1a) Secular Marriage

This is simply the legal relationship between two people. It allows them to enter into joint contracts as "one person"; it grants them a particular relationship with the government of the land, recognizing them as a 'family unit'; it grants both spouses legal rights to shared property; further it grants them (if needed) access to legal recourse through the courts should the relationship collapse.

1b) Spiritual Marriage

This is the ceremonial and religious aspect of marriage. It is the aspect of marriage that the churches and the married own in a most particularly personal way. It is the inner sense of the vows taken that hold the couple together. It also embodies the religious symbolism of the ceremony, and its consecration by a religious leader.

2. GLBT (or more confusingly, GLBTQQ)

This simply stands for Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered. It's an umbrella term that brings four groups which share little else other than perhaps political cause with one another. (I don't want to get into the politics between these groups here - suffice it to say that beyond a degree of political common cause, they really are distinct and share relatively little with one another)

3. Same-Sex Marriage (or Gay Marriage)

This is the topic of debate. In my context, it is a legal debate, and therefore only covers Secular Marriage (1a above). The government has been very clear that it will not try to force religious organizations to marry a same-sex couple.

4. Freedom of Religion

As expressed in the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms:

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

a) freedom of conscience and religion;
Please be absolutely clear, this freedom alson implies and includes the notion of freedom _from_ religion as well. Not all of this land's citizens accept the notion of a 'higher power' over humanity.

5. Freedom of Speech:

Again, taking the phrases from the Charter, is probably the clearest possible definition I can use. It is broad, and wide ranging. Please remember that various other statutes in Canada will temper the bounds of any freedom.

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
6. Equality

This is at the crux of the whole discussion. The essential claim of the proponents of same-sex marriage is that without legal recognition of same-sex marriage, the equality guarantees of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms are being breached.

Again, the language of the Charter is fairly clear and easily understood even by a non-lawyer such as myself:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Readers should note a few key points of the phrasing of this section:

a) The phrase 'equal protection and equal benefit' is very important in this conversation. To date, the courts have treated the word 'equal' as an absolute. Going so far as to state in a couple of cases, that 'separate but equal' is clearly _not_ 'equal' in their view.

b) The phrase 'without discrimination and, in particular,...' is also very important. The list following 'in particular' stipulates a number of absolute prohibitions regarding discrimination. It is also very important to recognize that the 'in particular' clause preceding the list implies that the following list is not deemed to be complete, and therefore, this clause should be interpreted inclusively, not exclusively by the courts. (The courts have heard this quite clearly.)

The legal discussion is best grounded in the various documents currently residing on the Canadian Department of Justice's web page on 'Civil Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same Sex Unions' (yes, I know its a mouthful - but what do you expect, lawyers and bureaucrats came up with it!) This page has links to the key documents on this subject - it's very enlightening reading - if you are willing to chew through the legalese.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Geez - Where's Ralph's Twit Filter?

I though Ralph Klein had hired his former brain, Rod Love to come back and help manage things. Either Rod Love is going senile, or Ralph's just gone so far off the rails he's unsalvagable.

Lurking on CBC's website is the following article talking about our illustrious Premier's opinions on same-sex marriage. In it, Ralph, in his infinite wisdom, asserts:

I do feel that gays and lesbians ought not to be discriminated against in any other form other than marriage
Really, Ralphie? What's next? You'll say it's okay to refuse service to someone in a restaurant because of their skin colour?

On top of that, Ralph tries to patronize not only GLBT people, but the citizens of this fair land in general with a classic cop-out line:

I have friends who are gays and friends who are lesbians, and they are wonderful people
How nice Ralph. You actually know a couple of members of the GLBT community. How lovely. I frankly don't give a damn about your friendships with other people. That line was insulting and patronizing at best. That's the classic variation on the "I have no problem with <insert group of choice here>, BUT ...." line of reasoning. Take it somewhere else - it's patronizing and insulting.

More seriously, I find myself wondering if this Z-Minus Moron ever actually READ this Country's Constitution - in particular the Charter of Rights and Freedoms???

Section 15(1) of the Charter reads as follows:

15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
I grant that I'm no lawyer, but this particular line seems pretty darn clear. Equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination seems decidedly absolute. Discrimination is discrimination - period, end of statement. Further, our courts have taken the notion of equality as something of an absolute - there is no "separate but equal" wording in the Charter - anywhere. Other than in some rarified academic arguments, I've never seen anyone argue that equal means anything less than absolute equality. (Of course, I've seen some academics argue that Black is White - I fear for their safety if they ever encounter a zebra crossing...)

I'm beginning to think that it should be mandatory for all of our politicians to demonstrate a reasonable depth of knowledge about the legal foundations of this nation - before we even allow them to run for office. This might keep the number of semi-literate twits like Ralph in our corridors of power down a bit. (Rather like rodents, the best you can hope to do is keep the numbers down, not get rid of them all - as desirable as that may seem at times)

What Ralph forgets is that Discrimination is the ugly underbelly of society. Back in the early part of the last century, it was not seen as a "bad thing" to discriminate against women based on their gender; against black and coloured peoples based on their skin etc. After all, these were clearly "inferior beings" (Does anybody else remember Adolph Hitler's "Final Solution" ? - the one that murdered some 6 million or more Jewish people?) Discrimination is plain wrong - no matter how morally justified you might think it is.

If people like Ralph - and other opponents of same-sex marriage - want to convince me that changing our country's legal definition of marriage is a "Bad Thing"(tm), they are going to have to reach a fairly high bar. What do they have to prove? That society would be irreparably harmed in some fashion by this change. Since the proposed changes merely impact the legal definition, and do not place any obligation upon religious bodies, I have yet to see any coherent explanation of what harm might be done.

So far, the lines of reasoning I have seen put forward that try (and fail) to explain a problem in secular, not religious, terms are along the following lines:

  • Marriage has always been a union between a man and a woman throughout the ages.
  • The use of the word marriage/married is troubling
  • This is the fallout of allowing "no-fault divorces" (Ted Byfield)
  • What's next? We allow marriage to gerbils?
  • You cannot change the definition of a word! (after all, it's in the dictionary!)
  • You are changing a fundamental building block of society's structure. What would families be based on?
I could go through each of these and dissect it - and perhaps I will one day. The simple fact is that so far, the only one of those arguments that has any potential (in my mind) to develop into a coherent argument is the last one. Given the huge variety of humanity out there, I can't imagine for the life of me what form that argument might take, but I'm willing to listen if someone has a coherent notion about it.

On a parting note, I would point out that the estimates (and they are rather weak statistics) of the percentage of the population that is GLBT range from <1% to somewhere around 5-6% - depending on what rubber rulers you use to define who is part of the GLBT population. In any terms, that's a very small number, which makes the GLBT population not only very vulnerable to discrimination, but it also underscores that the overall scope of impact of recognizing same-sex unions as a form of legal marriage is probably pretty darned small.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

A mild diversion ...

Normally, this space seems to get filled with my thoughts and commentary about the opinions and other bits that various people have put forth, or just my reactions to headlines in the news. Often, I find myself writing a lot of 'yabbut' arguments - picking through the pieces and pointing out what hasn't been considered in some line of reasoning or another.

Today, I had the pleasant surprise of finding a column on Gay Marriage that actually encapsulated a lot of the counterpoint to the Religious Reich's strident and shrill objections to the Federal Government's proposed legislation.

Mr. Kaufmann writes for the Sun newspapers (as do a number of other writers I have talked about before - Ted Byfield, Ezra Levant (LeRant???) and others). Today's column was rather refreshing to read. For an Alberta columnist to actually stand up and be counted as supporting changing our civil laws around marriage is somewhat surprising.

Unlike our Premier, who seems to want a referendum on the issue, Mr. Kaufmann is smart enough to recognize that governance in a democracy is about much more than simply implementing the "will of the majority" - it also becomes a matter of protecting those who would be harmed by the blind application of the 'will of the majority' (whatever that means).

Monday, December 13, 2004

What are words?

So, just what are words? According to my Concise Oxford Dictionary, a word is defined as follows: "a single, distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used to form sentences with others"

A philosopher might characterize a word as a token of language with an assigned meaning. As such, a word bears with it an enormous weight of concepts and notions - some clear and simple; others subtle and shaded in a myriad of ways. Without words, there can be no discourse, and without meaning ascribed to those words, no meaningful discourse can take place.

Are words immutable in their meaning? No. Especially not in English - a language often referred to as the 'Bastard Language of Europe'. Words come and go; their meanings shift and change with the subtleties of time.

The past century has seen numerous words emerge in our lexicon; and still more change their meanings. The computer industry alone has sprouted its own vernacular that is bewildering to behold. The tokens we apply to something have changed - the 'horseless carriage' became the 'automobile'; the 'automobile' morphed yet again and became a 'car' in our day to day conversation. Yet, if someone talked to you today about their 'horseless carriage', you'd wonder if you'd stepped back in time.

Words have a way of changing over time, both the spellings and their meanings.

In the United States, the last 20 years has seen the term 'Liberal' become a rather nasty epithet. Where it once referred to someone of 'centrist' political leanings, various conservative commentators have twisted the term so that it now refers to someone who is indecisive; imprecise or unwilling to take a hard, absolute line.

Similarly, the term conservative is slowly being hijacked by the so-called "social conservatives".

People like Ted Byfield, a columnist whose rantings appear regularly in the Sun Newspapers across Canada.

I was reading his column today with some interest (and surprisingly, I didn't just get downright furious with the man - unusual). It dawned on me as I read his words that this man isn't just a "Conservative" - he doesn't want to "conserve" anything - he wants to go back in time.

Lessee - just a quick review of his column, and he touches on every social whinge button in the last thirty odd years:

  • No fault divorce
  • Polygamy
  • Gay Marriage
  • Unelected judiciary
I won't go into some of what Mr. Byfield has written on subjects such as feminism, equality rights etc. Suffice it to say that if Mr. Byfield had his way, we'd be living in some kind of wierd Bush-McArthy utopia. We'd all go to church every Sunday like good little robots; turn in the queer at the end of the block to the police. Oh yes, I imagine wife beating would come back too - after all, a man's got to keep control over his family - otherwise, it might gosh - fall apart into the rack and ruin of divorce.

Mr. Byfield makes a classical error in his logic:

It apparently hasn't yet dawned on him that "demos" means the people, and therefore rule by unelected judges is not a democracy at all.
Last I looked, the Constitution of this country was assembled by the then elected officials of our country - Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Peter Lougheed, Rene Levesque and a cast of others whose names escape me at the moment.

So far, every time the judges of the Supreme Court have ruled in a manner that the "Conservatives" like Mr. Byfield dislike, they howl about an "unelected, activist judiciary". I strongly suggest that Mr. Byfield go back and read - carefully - the clauses and words of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms of this nation. Then, perhaps, if their minds don't fog over with the subtle meanings of those tokens of speech, they may begin to achieve a glimmer of understanding as to what the judges derive their interpretation from.

From that point on, the Christian concept of marriage lost the support of Canadian law, and such bizarre asininities as gay marriage became inevitable. So prophesied the doomsayers at the time, and they have proved right.
I hate to point this out, but to assume a relationship between no fault divorce and gay marriage is like assuming that the temperature of spit on a rock in Alberta has something to do with the price of yak's milk in Mongolia. The two topics are unrelated - and I would suggest that you would be hard pressed to find any relationship. Of course, the so-called "social conservatives" (Moral Impositors?) assume that it is all part of society going to rack and ruin because it speaks to deviation from their "Truth"(tm)

Bills can be passed and become laws, it's true, but those same laws can also be repealed.
The corollary to this, is that illegal legislation can also be repealed. Think carefully on this, Mr. Byfield.

However, getting back to my original point about this business - it used to be that the term 'Conservative' referred to someone who would "stay the course" and not change too many things. It referred to politicians whose ideals were moderated by the realities of economics.

Today, people like Byfield and Ezra Levant scream from their soap boxes - hollering about the "injustices" done to their beliefs at the hands of the awful "Liberal" media. (Both being media writers, one can only imagine what they must think of themselves...). The term "Conservative" today has been hijacked by the religious reich, with an eye to returning this world to some state of mythical grace that they think we passed through. (Lately, the fashion du jour seems to be an idealized 1950's "nuclear family" model, with a smattering of Bush "olde tyme religion(tm)" and a healthy dose of McArthy era paranoia (with "commies" replaced by "terrorists"). Add to that a blind assumption that there is some inherent "correctness" to their particular brand of religion, and you have an environment that is really rather nasty. One which would return us to an era where being different gets the tar kicked out of you because someone decides they don't like the way you look/walk/talk whatever. Ugh!

Friday, December 10, 2004

And So The Silliness Starts

As expected, the howls of anguish from the 'traditional marriage' lobby were shrill yesterday in the wake of the Supreme Court's commentary (it's not a ruling per se) on the Federal Government's reference questions to it over the subject of Gay Marriage.

On the Canadian Family Action Coalition's website, the howl goes up for a "referendum" on the subject of marriage definition. Of course, CFAC is pretty much using the standard lines about the subject:

"The institution of marriage as man and woman is so fundamental to all major religions that the state should not be allowed to alter it," said Dr Charles McVety, President of CFAC. "You do not have to desecrate the sacred institution of marriage to protect the rights of others." He pointed out, "Common law relations already exists for others."
Er - I hate to point this out, but the government isn't proposing to change the Religious definition of marriage. They are proposing to change the secular definition which defines the relationship in law, not the definition and rules that the various religions apply.

The notion of common law relationships being "there for others" misses the fundamental point of the court rulings as to how the Charter applies in this domain. This creates a "separate but equal" structure which the courts have said, time and again, is NOT equality before the law. Among other problems (as many common-law couples, heterosexual or not will attest), is that there is a huge body of law in this country that uses the term 'marriage' which by definition excludes those in 'common-law' relationships. For example, there have been all sorts of issues with pension survivor benefits under CPP; access to various family support programs etc. which have had to be pushed through the courts. Unless the Federal government is willing to undertake a review of every inch of legislation on the books, and amend each piece to be inclusive, there is a huge problem with legal terminology that would be infinitely costly to solve.

The second point I'd like to make on the notion of deferring to a referendum is quite simple indeed. Part of the role of government is to counter-balance the 'tyranny of the majority' that a "pure" democracy can turn into. Governments are obligated to strike a balance between the will of the majority and the legitimate claims of the various minority groups that are living within that society. Whether we like it or not, the courts have stated that equality is an absolute in the interpretation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. There are many implications to such a statement - some of them are going to make people very uncomfortable. (This author as well at various times, on various subjects)

The second "classic" line of reasoning used is that Marriage is about procreation and raising a family. The anti-homosexual argument is that two people of the same gender can't possibly bring children into the world. Logically true enough, but it ignores the fact that many homosexuals have children from previous relationships or adoption. The assumption also invalidates the marriages of many people who cannot or choose not to have children. The reasons for this range from infertility to birth conditions (such as intersexed persons) to plain person al choice. Does that invalidate their marriages? (go read a biography of King Henry VIII to get an idea how badly abused that notion can get...)

The corollary to the assumption that marriage is about children is the resurrection of the "stay together for the children" thing. The same people who are decrying the prospect of Gay Marriage, also like to cry about the divorce rate. Having seen enough truly dysfunctional marriages that "stayed together for the children" (and the effects on those same children), I simply do not accept that reasoning. If a marriage has become dysfunctional or even abusive (physically or psychologically), it should NOT stay together. It's healthier for all involved to dissolve it.

Do we step back to an era where a marriage must be "consummated" to be valid? Come to think of it, it used to be that a marriage could only be solemnized by a Priest of the Roman Catholic Church. Perhaps we should dissolve marriages not made under those auspices? Or worse still, what about those awful marriages between people of different faiths? My goodness, the definition of marriage has changed over the centuries, hasn't it? Our laws didn't used to allow divorces to occur either. So why are we so worried about another change?

The only downside I see to making this change is that it will inevitably lead to pressure being brought to bear on the various religious bodies to reconsider their current positions. Frankly, that puts the religious side of the discussion right where it belongs - in the Churches, and not in the laws of the land. I would point out that the Catholic Church has been obdurate in its refusal to allow the ordination of women into the priesthood. So far, nobody has taken them to court in Canada over this. Why? Simple - the very Charter of Rights and Freedoms that is being applied to the Gay Rights also protects the rights of the various religions in Canada to their beliefs. Any such challenge would be laughed out of court.

This article in the Globe and Mail does a nice job of trying to describe Paul Martin's inner journey of reflection on this subject. I think it bears reading and contemplation.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Brace Yourselves...

Canada is about to be blasted by every religious fundamentalist out there. The Supreme Court just handed down its "answer" to the questions that were put before it by the government on same-sex marriage.

For the next few weeks, we will get to listen to a chorus of quotations from the Bible (especially Numbers and Leviticus). Not to mention a huge amount of moral indignation from the various groups that have a problem with gay marriage.

Of particular interest to me is the following observation of the Supreme Court's ruling:

In a non-binding decision released Thursday morning, the court also said religious groups opposed to same-sex marriages do not have to perform them.
In very simple terms, what the Supreme Court seems to have stated is that the marriage exists on two levels in our society - one is as a legal concept, the other is as a spiritual and religious concept. This is more or less what I have been arguing for quite some time.

On the legal front, marriage does change how a couple relates to each other, both in life and death; as well as the relationship with the government (taxes, pensions etc.).

The court has ruled, as I would expect, rather sensibly that the religious bodies are not bound to perform marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples. Churches have always reserved the right to refuse to marry any given couple. When it comes to a matter of interpreting their spiritual doctrines, that is the domain of the churches, and they remain quite free to exercise those perogatives. (That isn't to say that there will not be pressure on those churches to change their position, but that becomes an issue for discussion within the body politic of the church itself)

I've often been somewhat troubled by the way the most vocal of the 'anti-gay-rights' movement like to quote from Old Testament scripture, and interpret it in a most literal, legalistic manner. First of all, the New Testament is supposed to largely supplant the Old Testament, so it seems somewhat convenient that the prohibitions thrown in our collective faces are all Old Testament. Certainly, the words of the New Testament leave the door open to apply aspects of the Old Testament, but to me it seems quite rational to question a literalist approach to the words of Leviticus and Numbers.

A further dig around on the web, finds this little gem about Leviticus that further reinforces my suspicions about taking its words literally. If, as asserted, Leviticus is aimed primarily at the priesthood (which makes quite a bit of sense to me), then many of the strictures in the book are suddenly much more rationally understandable. In the era in which the Old Testament was written, the priesthood was held out as "near deified" in the first place - they were the keepers of God's word, and were held to a higher standard (after all, we wouldn't want our "lifeline" to eternity corrupted now, would we?) Written much later, the New Testament begins to reflect a changing reality in the social fabric of the world.

I'm not saying that all of this invalidates the content of Leviticus, or any other book. Merely that the literalist interpretation of it is at best suspect. Society has changed dramatically in the millenia that have followed the writing of those books - it seems to me that our interpretation of them should also take that into account.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

US Army Deserters, and Refugee Applications

Recently, the case of a couple of American soldiers who went AWOL from their units and came to Canada has been in the news. The cases themselves are relatively mundane but for the fact that it is former American troops asking for refugee status. An American looking for refugee status is an odd creature to say the least.

But, let's consider their reasons for desertion, and subsequent application for refugee status:

1. They believed (or knew) that they would be asked to take part in actions in Iraq that they believed were immoral or illegal.

2. In the case of Mr. Hinzman, he had applied as a 'conscientious objector' with regards to being sent to duty in Iraq. This was declined.

3. In terms of punishment, he faces anything from years in military prison to the death penalty. (Although rare, desertion is one of the charges in the US military penal code that carries the possibility of a death penalty) "Observers" apparently think he'll spend approximately 5 years in lockup if returned to the United States. With GW Bush (aka "The Texecutioner") acting as C in C, I wouldn't be so sure about that personally.

I don't hold any particular belief about the merits of this case - I simply don't know enough about the details and the rules of refugee status under Canadian Immigration law to be make any useful comment.

However, a number of commentators have been making the "Go face your punishment like a man" cries. To a degree, there is some truth to what these people are saying - after all, the US army is a volunteer army at the moment. In theory, you signed up knowing full well what you were getting into.

But, there is another aspect or two to the story to be considered. While in the army, one's duty is primarily to follow orders and get the job done - whatever that job may be, and however your commanders tell you to do it. As the post-WWII prosecution of Nazi soldiers has demonstrated, there's a new consideration. A trooper on the 'front lines' of a situation cannot defend their actions with "I was just following orders". The world seems to have concluded that individual troops have a legal and moral responsibility for their actions.

Therefore, in the aftermath of war, individual troopers may well be held personally responsible for whatever happened in that war - regardless of where the orders came from. There are those, even within the US, that believe the Iraq war to be illegal. Worse, actions that have been carried out by members of the US military (e.g. Abu Ghraib ) that are as egregious as any war crimes perpetrated elsewhere.

On those grounds alone, an individual trooper may well be quite justified in refusing to obey orders, or resorting to desertion as in this case, if they have reason to believe that they will be ordered to take part in events that they could later be held criminally responsible for in the future. (Notably, we continue to hunt down and prosecute former Nazi soldiers some 60 years after WW II ended!)

The legal precedent and practical events exist to substantiate the worries that these soldiers have expressed. Perhaps, in light of the world's approach to war crimes in the last half century they have a point?

Monday, December 06, 2004

This is Disgusting!

Last week, this country lost one of its great writers - Pierre Berton. I've only read a handful of his writing - it's good writing, but my personal interests aren't in "recent history".

However, I made the mistake of reading Ted Byfield's column this morning:

At first, I couldn't decide if I should be shocked by what Mr. Byfield had written, or if it was intended to just make me downright furious.

Mr. Byfield writes:

He stood for almost all the hallowed left-wing causes -- the welfare state, medical services under total government control, gay rights, state day care, easy access to abortion, lavish old-age pensions, and taxes as high as they had to be to pay for all this.

We get nothing on the first female MP, the socialist Agnes Macphail, nothing on Angus and Grace MacInnes, while his only article on the sainted Tommy Douglas consisted of a brief reference to Douglas' "heroism" when the man died.

Even the socialist movement as a whole gets no book at all.

So you have to wonder: If Berton was such a thorough-going socialist, why is it that he found no socialist in the entire history of the country worth writing a book about.

Augh! What is it with commentators these days - in particular, right wing commentators? A man dies, and these clowns choose to use his passage from this world as an excuse to get up on their soap boxes and claim their particular viewpoint's "moral and ethical superiority". Good God! A family is grieving the loss of a father and grandfather; a country is mourning the loss of one of its great minds and historians, and these clowns have to criticize his politics????

I'm starting to conclude that the loudest, most obdurate, of right-wing commentators like Mr. Byfield have lost the very moral compass that they claim the "left wing" of lacking. (Oh wait - no the left wing are "moral relativists" according to the likes of Byfield) At least when President Reagan passed away recently, I didn't see left-wing commentators getting on a soapbox and bleating about his politics - no matter how much they disagreed with him.

In his conclusion, Byfield writes:

Berton's reason for not writing about the socialists was he found them so dull and boring nobody would buy books about them.

That is, in the socialist ideal, none must be allowed to tower above the rest, as Berton himself assuredly towered above the rest of us writers.

Perhaps, too, he finally saw that a country without buccaneers and pirates would be likewise dull and boring, offering nothing whatever for a Pierre Berton to make into the fascinating history he has produced.
Beyond the snide, sneering commentary of this moron's writing lies reality. If people like Mr. Byfield held "power", women would not have voting rights in this land; ethnic minorities would be second-class citizens; Native people would still not have voting rights; we would still have homosexuality illegal; freedom of religion would only apply if you happened to belong to their particular brand of christianity; schools would still be using the strap to punish students; Chinese and other immigrants would be the labour forces in our mines and forests doing all of the dangerous work (remember how many Chinese immigrants died building the CPR, Mr. Byfield?).

The buccaneers and pirates that "did such wonderful things", often did so at a horrific, Machievellian, price. I admire their accomplishments, but I also admire the accomplishments of Nellie McClung; Pierre Elliot Trudeau (who did more for equality in our society than any thousand so-called "Conservatives" have done); Tommy Douglas and many others whose accomplishments the "right-wing" of today would have us ignore.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

What's Bush Up To Now??

I'm a little surprised - it seems as though Bush & Co. are stirring two pots with a single spoon.

The following article alleges that Iran is developing "ballistic missiles". Supposedly, US intelligence has managed to intercept "technology shipments" to Iran that are destined to become parts of these missiles.

Let's see - a ballistic missile, for all intents and purposes is not much more than a mortar shell with a big rocket booster and some minimal guidance attached to it. Once it passes the peak of its arc, the missile loses power, and falls to earth in more or less the same fashion as a mortar shell or other fairly conventional device. The old German V2 rockets were essentially a form of ballistic missile in their day.

Regardless of what the US is claiming, ballistic capability is NOT NEW. Even inter-continental missiles have been around for the last 40 odd years or more. Hardly something that is particularly difficult for a country to develop or acquire.

However, there's two cards being played here - first, this article plays into fostering the notion in the public mind that Iran is somehow a threat to the United States. (Whether or not it really is). Second, is to further bolster the justifications for burning billions of dollars on "Missile Defense". This latter being the latest hobby horse that Bush is trying to sell Canada on participating in.

This isn't a new concept, according to the Wikipedia articles, Missile Defense has its roots in the late 1950s, and has been bubbling around in the US military circles ever since.

I'm rather concerned with the credibility of the claims made against Iran in the first place. After the debacle that has been Iraq, I'm afraid that my personal 'standard' for acceptable evidence is now quite a bit higher. It's going to take more than just allegations before I believe the assertions. The CIA's track record hasn't exactly been inspiring to date, and after the lies told to the world about Iraq, I don't think anyone should take "their word" for much of anything. I'd be very skeptical of any assertion of real threat from Iran at this moment in time.

However, Bush and Co. are also likely to use this to further bolster their claims that the "missile defense" program they keep bandying about is critical to US's security. I heard some nimwit congress critter talking on CBC today express "dismay" and "confusion" as to why there might resistance from Canada to this program. This is not terribly difficult to grasp really. I think Canada has every right to question the validity of a concept that the US has been trying to put together for over 40 years, and remains disturbingly unsuccessful at making workable. (Of course, the congress critter had to reference 9/11, conveniently ignoring the fact that those events had nothing to do with an inter continental missile, and originated from _within_ the borders of the United States.

The other aspect of the whole program is the assumption of a "real threat" via missile attack. Is there such a threat, or is it a supposed threat. If the threat is real, we need to consider it rather differently than if the threat is merely supposition on somebody's part.

It will be interesting to watch for the next little while to see what direction the US takes things with respect to Iran. I suspect that for the next 6 months to a year, we will see the US continue to thump its war drums rather loudly towards Iran. Whether they actually invade Iran will depend heavily on a few factors:

1. How stable is Iraq following this January's elections
2. How many troops does the US have in the region, and are they ready to undertake a full scale war again. (a big chunk of the last troop count increase came from extending existing tours of duty in the region - that means you are now dealing with fatigued soldiers...)
3. How much clout do Russia and China have? (Not just with the US, but with the Arab world.)

I suspect that overt action against Iran would galvanize Arab sentiment against the Americans - very quickly.

Given that Russia is feeling vulnerable with so many of its former Warsaw Pact allies joining NATO and the EU, Russia may just form new alliances with the various Arab states that it shares borders with, possibly kindling a new cold-war style rival emerging. (No matter what the US thinks it can do with individual countries, it is far more sorely pressed to try and prevent a bloc of countries from developing shared capabilities that would rival the military clout the US currently enjoys on the world stage.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Reinventing the Alberta PCs...

If one thing was painfully apparent in the recent provincial election, it is the desperate need for the Progressive Conservatives to reinvent themselves as a party. Klein is old and stale, he seems disengaged and possibly even more power-centric than former Prime Minister Chretien was in his waning days.

A few names have been bandied about as possible successors to Klein's throne:

Gary Mar
Jim Dinning
Ted Morton

There's one or two others that are not sitting MLAs that are allegedly running around in the background as well.

Frankly, all of these candidates (declared or not) are simply going to continue the party on its current path towards irrelevancy. None of them has any particular spark about them, and worse several of them are architects of some of the Klein government's more idiotic policies.

My thought? Why shouldn't Heather Forsyth or someone like her make a run at the leadership. Heather is one of the few MLAs who went back to Edmonton with such a commanding lead in her local riding. Overall, I feel that she has been a good advocate for the residents of Calgary Fish Creek over the years. As Solicitor General for the province, she has brought forward some truly useful bits of legislation - things that are relatively sensible and balanced.

Just a random thought - she might actually be a good person to build the party around - and wouldn't a little bit of balance in our government be a nice thing to see?

Yankee Gone Home...

The old chant from years ago used to be "Yankee Go Home" when an unpopular President visited another country. Well, yesterday George W. Bush addressed the people of Canada through a speech given in Halifax, and then returned to the United States. (Good riddance!)

This speech told us a great deal about what's on George's agenda for the next few years - sadly it appears to be another four years of the same moronic tripe that we've had to deal with since 2000. (Sigh)

Among the more notable quotes and misquotes in the speech are these:

The first great commitment is to defend our security and spread freedom by building effective multinational and multilateral institutions and supporting effective multilateral action.
Wow - that almost sounds like he has a vision that looks beyond his own navel. Oh wait - acting on that would necessitate changing the structure and mandate of the United Nations. An organization that the Republican Right Wing in the United States just happens to love to hate. (I won't even begin to address the fact the the US is in arrears on its dues among other things) Second, in order for any reformation of the United Nations to be meaningful, those countries with "Veto Powers" would have to give them up.

The objective of the U.N. and other institutions must be collective security, not endless debate. For the sake of peace, when those bodies promise serious consequences, serious consequences must follow.
Ah yes, so does that mean that the world should raise sanctions against the United States for invading Iraq? Check whether the shoe fits it before you buy it, George.

My country is determined to work as far as possible within the framework of international organizations, and we're hoping that other nations will work with us to make those institutions more relevant and more effective in meeting the unique threats of our time.
Let me interpret this little bit of bafflegab - basically, he's saying "Get in step with what I want to do, or I'll just decide that your opinion is irrelevant". Frankly, George, go to hell. If you can't grasp the notion that others can, and will, disagree with you for perfectly valid reasons, you need to get your expectations realigned - preferably with a more tangible reality than the nice cozy little fantasy of dusty little towns, and shootouts at sunset.

Your Prime Minister, McKenzie King, gave this answer: "We cannot defend our country and save our homes and families by waiting for the enemy to attack us. To remain on the defensive is the surest way to bring the war to Canada. Of course, we should protect our coasts and strengthen our ports and cities against attack," but the Prime Minister went on to say, "we must also go out and meet the enemy before he reaches our shores. We must defeat him before he attacks us, before our cities are laid to waste." McKenzie King was correct then, and we must always remember the wisdom of his words today.
Okay, George, you want to purloin the words of one of Canada's Prime Ministers? The inference is obvious here - you are trying, once again to justify your hot-headed invasion of Iraq - an invasion that was not in any way, shape or form, related to "terrorism". Prime Minister King was speaking in response to a truly clear and present danger - Nazi Germany. Saddam Hussein was not Adolf Hitler.

I agree to a point with the notion of meeting the enemy on their ground. If the enemy is the terrorist, it is an enemy which does not fear rolling armies. Armies are meant to fight other armies - not little groups of 10-12 people in an apartment somewhere. Terrorists don't wear "uniforms" (in the classical military sense), they blend into the society around them. They are the shadows. If you want to confront them on their own turf, you must find them, and ferret them out - one cell at a time. As the recent fiasco called Fallujah has pointed out, it takes weeks to mass an army to invade an urban area - in that time, the very targets you want to take down slip out.

No George, your 'six-shooter' style of diplomacy doesn't cut it. If you want to fight terrorists, you must find them and remove them - surgically. Beefing up the military doesn't do much in these circumstances.

On a related note, I see that the United States is sending still more troops into Iraq. I think it speaks to how desperately GWB wants a "vote" to take place next month. He has to be able to stand up on the world stage and demonstrate that he is "bringing democracy" to Iraq, not merely occupying it by force.

I have to wonder what the long term goals are though. If one thing is painfully obvious in Iraq right now, it's that military might doesn't do much to keep the resistance down.

GWB appears to be trying to "reach out", but he really is only reaching out to those that already agree with him. There is no move on his part to take a more moderate stance on foreign policy, or a commitment to work with other nations constructively. He's basically sent out the signal that you either agree with him, and go along with his policy, or you are irrelevant to him. It's a sad statement indeed.