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The Pope and the Politicians

Copyright © 2003 by David E. Ross

As noted in another of my commentaries, appeals courts in three different Canadian provinces ruled that the government must allow and recognize same-gender marriages. Rather than attempting to overrule those decisions by appealing to the federal Supreme Court, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien drafted legislation to enact those rulings.

The dominant religion in Canada is Roman Catholicism. Although the draft bill exempts any religion from having to recognize a same-gender marriage or perform a same-gender wedding, the Pope issued a directive to all Catholic members of Parliament — including Chrétien and his expected successor Paul Martin — ordering them to vote against this legislation.

This is an issue that goes far beyond the borders of Canada. The Pope addressed his decree to elected officials around the world — not merely in Canada — and included a directive to prohibit gays from adopting children (legal in a number of U.S. states). Prior decrees ordered Catholic politicians in all nations to vote to prohibit divorce and birth control. Yes, the Pope is ordering elected officials to implement Catholic dogma, even in nations that have significant non-Catholic populations.

The reaction in Canada to the Pope's decree has been quite negative. Even those who oppose same-gender marriage indicate an aversion to having a foreign religious leader interfering in how locally elected officials decide issues. This reaction may become so strong that undecided members of Parliament might vote in favor of same-gender marriage just to show their constituents that they do not take orders from Rome. After all, many voters think the Roman Catholic Church lost its right to issue decrees on moral issues by the way it handled priestly molestations of children (a crime perpetuated by heterosexuals as much as by homosexuals).

The basic question is: Who does an elected Catholic official represent? The Vatican? Or the voters — of all faiths (and none) — who put him or her into office? No, this is not intended as an attack on the Roman Catholic Church. The same issue should be raised regarding other religions and other nations. Do you represent your religion or your constituents? John F. Kennedy represented the people of the U.S.; George W. Bush often seems to represent the Southern Baptist Convention.

Canada is not a Catholic nation; Canada is a secular nation with peoples of many beliefs. The largest Protestant denomination in Canada is the United Church, which already performs weddings for same-gender couples. Canada also has a significant Jewish population. The Union for Reform Judaism (representing Reform Jewish congregations from Canada to the Caribbean) and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (representing their clergy) are on record supporting same-gender civil marriage.

In Quebec — whose population has the largest proportion of Catholics of all provinces — popular sentiment strongly favors same-gender marriages. The Pope may have overreached in trying to control civil legislation in a nation with a freely elected government.

20 August 2003

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