When you are a regular citizen, you have the right not to have a public opinion. You have the right to remain quiet, even to have no private opinion at all. You are allowed to say, "I don't know." To be unsure enough even to decide not to make up your own mind, let alone the minds of others.
*** Begin Right Sidebar ***Former NHL hockey star Ken Dryden is now a Member of Parliament (MP) in Canada and serves in the cabinet as Minister of Social Development.
Dryden's commentary was published in the Toronto Star on 24 June 2005.
*** End Right Sidebar ***
As a Member of Parliament, I lose that right. I am supposed to know, or I am at least supposed to know, my own mind. I have to stand and be counted because a decision must be made — yes or no. And the public has the right to know what I decide, so they can decide about me.
I bring no special expertise to the issue of same-sex marriage. I went to church as a child. I loved the hymns and, at times, the feeling of church, the quiet and community of it, the getting-dressed-up, family-together niceness of it.
I didn't read the Bible except to memorize a few parts for Sunday school. I found the Ten Commandments interesting, what was included and what was not. I thought the name, "The Golden Rule," pushed a bit too hard, but I'm not sure I have heard 11 such simple, non pushy words — "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" — that offer a better personal or societal path to life.
Not too many years ago, I decided to read the Bible from beginning to end. The experience only confirmed what I had vaguely felt for most of my life — that the Bible offered the best thinking and understandings of a time and place and people. It reflected how people explained to themselves the world, how the world worked, how people should behave and what would happen if they didn't.
Most of the wisdom of the Bible has held up in different times and places and for different people. But to me, no wisdom is timeless, each is challenged by a new time. Some pieces of wisdom last; some don't.
In thinking about same-sex marriage, I have only the experiences of my own life to go on. I'm not sure when I heard the word "homo" for the first time. Or "fag." It was certainly many years before I knew what they meant. I heard them first around the playground and especially during games. They came out as words intended to hurt. They said, "You are weak. You are gutless. You are not a man."
By the time I knew better what they meant, I don't think I ever believed that anybody I knew really "was one." There were rumours, whispers, intended to put down somebody you wanted to put down. Somebody somewhere surely must be one, I knew, but nobody in my world.
I have since come to know that kids I knew very well, kids in my own class, were gay or lesbian.
I have thought how impossibly hard it must have been for them. As teenagers, all of us had to struggle so hard to figure out what was going on in our own bodies and minds. Having strange things begin to happen to us, which surely weren't normal, must make us bad and perverted.
What would the other kids think if they knew? What would our parents? "You pervert!" There must be something wrong with me, darkly, dirtily wrong. And we were the lucky ones, the one who never had to confront the possibility that we were going in the unthinkably wrong direction. We had only to find a way to do acceptably what was acceptable. What must it have been like for the others? How often must they have thought themselves hideous and unspeakable?
In more recent decades, I have seen what this exclusion has done to people. I have seen them forced to twist and contort themselves, to hide, to pretend, just to get the chance to do the things they wanted to do in life; having about them one big fact that to others completely defines them.
I think now about the untold lives this has directed and shaped. The untold lives it has destroyed. This is so far from being right, it is outrageous.
I grew up knowing that marriage was something that involved a man and a woman. Kids eventually seemed to be a part of marriage, that's how life worked, but they didn't have to be, in that some perfectly fine marriages didn't produce kids. I thought marriage was something that people did when they loved one another so much that they couldn't stop themselves from committing to each other privately, and then in a public ceremony, from vowing that they wanted to be with each other forever.
I never thought about marriage as something that could involve a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. I never thought about a man and a man or a woman and a woman loving each other in "a marriage way." I have thought about this question more in recent months. How do I feel? Uncomfortable. Not entirely certain in a private way or a public way.
Life is hard enough when we live on the majority side of things — of race, language, culture, religion, sexuality. Our biggest challenge as human beings, I think, is to get along. To learn about each other, to accept difference, to give the same chance to others to live their lives as we would like them to give to us. To allow others to share fully and completely in the world.
It is also hard to have to think again, in a different way, about something we had always experienced. Like marriage. I think the great majority of Canadians on either side of the same-sex marriage debate are not 100 per cent sure or comfortable. That is important to know.
In the midst of this heated debate, it is hard not to be swayed, usually in the reverse direction, by the words and tone of the advocates who scream their certainty, who tell the rest of us that we surely must be stupid or at least depraved if we aren't as certain as they are. It's okay to be 60-40 or 70-30 on this. As the debate more and more attempts to polarize us, it is important to know that on one side of the question or the other most of us have more in common than it seems. It is important to know, because it will help us immensely to get along again when all this is done.
So, all these decades later, with a vote ahead of me, where am I? To me, man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman, marriage is for two people who love each other, who want to be with each other and who privately and publicly commit to each other.
Copyright © 2005 Toronto Star Newspapers Limited
David Ross home