The federal government is facing one of the most challenging issues it has encountered in its two and a half years of leadership. At issue is how the Department of Justice will interpret the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The political pot continues to boil as the government fuels the debate by stating its intention to include “sexual orientation” in the Human Rights Act.
I want to make clear what the issues are and, more important for some, what they are not. The unfortunate part of this debate is that too often broadcasters or journalists imply that evangelical concerns spring from a view that would deny homosexuals equal rights. That simply is not true.
As Christians, we affirm that all Canadians regardless of lifestyle, faith or condition, should be afforded equal rights. We do not deny that our biblical understanding of human sexuality leads us to conclude that the practice of same-gender sex is both wrong and inappropriate. But that does not mean that such people do not deserve full rights and freedoms under the law. We defend their rights to equal access in this society.
We also recognize that the government, in wanting to make “sexual orientation” a part of the federal Human Rights Act, is trying to deal with what it believes are inequalities experienced by the homosexual community. But we ask the government to be forthright in saying exactly what those inequalities are and to devise appropriate and specific legal arrangements that would address those issues without opening the door to a wholesale reorientation of Canadian law and values.
To place “sexual orientation” within the Human Rights Act, however, puts the government in a place where it is called to legislate and legitimize a particular conviction concerning sexual orientation. The government has no right to engage in such legislation of morals.
The addition of “sexual orientation” to the Human Rights Act is really quite unnecessary:
- First, it isn’t necessary for the protection of human rights, including the rights of homosexuals.
- Second, it has the effect of making government more intrusive than is justifiable in a free and democratic society.
On April 17, 1982, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was proclaimed as part of the constitution of Canada. Implementation of Section 15 of the Charter – which deals with the issues of equality – was delayed by three years to allow the federal and provincial governments to bring their legislation into line with the new Charter.
Rights and freedoms
To conduct the study, the federal government established a Parliamentary Committee on Equality Rights chaired by MP Patrick Boyer. The committee’s report, Equality for All, made 85 recommendations in its submission of October 25, 1985. Among these it recommended that the Human Rights Act b amended to add “sexual orientation” as a prohibited ground of discrimination. The government on March 4, 1986, in its response, Toward Equality, agreed with the committee and indicated its intent to amend the Human Rights Act accordingly.
At stake is not whether or not homosexuals should have the same rights as everyone else in Canada. We agree fundamentally that they should. The issue is that by including “sexual orientation” in the Human Rights Act, the rights and freedoms of many individuals and groups will be threatened and the intent of the government – to provide and protect human rights – will be distorted.
For example, a volunteer agency could lose its right to define its code of conduct. The Big Brothers Association in Minneapolis is a prime example. A sexual orientation ordinance was enacted there during the ‘70s. In 1977 a young man applied to become a Big Brother; that is, become a role model and companion for the fatherless boy. Big Brothers noticed that his resume mentioned homosexual affiliations and when asked, the applicant admitted to being homosexual. The interview explained that the mother of the boy with whom the adult would be matched would be told of this as well as other information on him and other applications so she could decide on the suitability of the applicants.
Big Brothers guilty
The young man sued under the Minneapolis sexual orientation ordinance on the grounds of discrimination. Big brothers countered by asserting that their policy was not discriminatory, because they gave full disclosure of relevant materials on applicants to the parents directly involved.
The Human Rights Hearing Officer found Big Brothers guilty of discrimination. The group was required to accept the homosexual as a Big Brother without disclosure to the mother of the boy. In addition, “affirmative action” was required of Big Brothers: the organization was forced to advertise in two San Francisco newspapers, inviting homosexual partners to come to Minneapolis as Big Brothers to fatherless boys. Today the state policy in Minnesota for such cases is that the mother not be advised that a man is homosexual.
We also fear that private and religious schools could be forced to teach that homosexuality is a legitimate, normative, alternative life-style. And if such equal time were not provided, the school could jeopardize its right to function or be forced to defend itself in court. If “sexual orientation” were made part of what a school system was forced by law to recognize, even if that school opposed homosexuality on the grounds of its religious view, by law it could be forced either to violate its own beliefs or commit an “offence” and thus be indicted.
And what would happen with agencies such as group homes or social facilities who serve the public based on a religious commitment? Would they be compelled to disregard their convictions on sexual behavior because their budget may, in part, be funded by government? Clearly, to insist that a religious social agency not entertain matters of religious belief in its hiring is to erode the very essence of that grouping. The law in effect would force that group to deny what it is.
The Salvation Army knows only too well what this type o legislation does to the free and open maintenance of a social program. The New York City Council attempted to include in contracts with the Salvation Army, Roman Catholic and Jewish agencies a clause pertaining to “sexual orientation.” The Salvation Army objected and after years of debate it was eventually solved – but at the high cost of hurting people and paying expensive legal fees.
For if “sexual orientation” is added to human rights legislation, pressure will eventually be exerted on the courts to reinterpret the meaning of “marriage.” Not only would lesbian and homosexual marriages occur but here also could be a demand on government to provide family and health benefits to homosexual couples. This would result in the adoption of children in same-sex marriages.
We are concerned:
- that volunteer agencies dealing with children should be free to set their own standards.
- that homosexual relationships would be given the same legal recognition or benefits as marriages, such as family and welfare benefits.
- that the likelihood of a homosexual couple’s adopting would be substantially increased.
- that the government has not clarified what is meant by “sexual orientation.” Although most would assume it refers to homosexuality and lesbianism, nothing indicating that has been stated.
The sponsors of this legislation thus fail to define what “sexual orientation” means. The result is that the proposed legislation almost certainly will have the unintended effect of creating protection for other orientations such as sexual use of children or animals, or other sexual aberrations.
- that small businesses or people who wish to rent out a part of their dwelling could be forced to defend their rights when refusing rental to homosexuals.
Consider the following: to rent out rooms in her house could lose the right to say “No” even if she has young children in the house and doesn’t wish her children to be affected by the influence of such homosexual activity.
- that public and private school systems will be pressured to teach that the homosexual life-style is a viable and normal alternative to traditional marriage and family life. It is not unrealistic to expect, if sexual orientations would be considered discriminatory by the courts. Almost certainly schools would be pressured to teach in such a way as to imply that homosexual activity is equal to and just as desirable as marriage and family life. As well, we are concerned that the proposed legislation would jeopardize the right of Christian school systems to require that staff at all levels maintain Christian life-styles.
- that Christian churches and other religious groups should be free to teach their biblical doctrines of sexuality and that such teaching not be interpreted as being an attack on homosexuals.
In short, we see that adding sexual orientation to human rights legislation changes the purpose of the Charter. At present, laws protect morally neutral characteristics such as race or sex.
The proposed change – the addition of sexual status – will serve to protect a particular life-style. In essence, what now serves to provide an environment of fair play for all Canadians, gets caught up in the dubious task of requiring support for a particular lifestyle.
Those who argue for including sexual orientation in the federal Human Rights Act or a provincial Human Rights Code do so because they interpret the words “and, in particular” in Section 15 as meaning that right to special protection for a homosexual life-style already exists in the Charter. Thus, so the argument goes, protection for the homosexual life-style is assumed and should be enshrined in the Human Rights Act.
But this argument surely invites questions such as, “Should we not also within the Human Rights Act, identify and give special protection to those who are obese?” If the Charter protects obese people from discrimination, which we believe it does, then should they not also be given mention in the Act? Of course not. That’s why the Charter exists. It is sufficiently general to include all without forcing the federal Human Rights Act or a provincial Human Rights code to single out any group, be they obese or homosexual.
Should we amend our laws to include all possible forms of discrimination not mentioned in Section 15 on the grounds that they are (or might be) included in Section 15? That would be absurd. In any case, even if sexual orientation is perceived by the courts to be included in the Charter, then this is something for them to decide.
An unanswered question is, what is really meant by “sexual orientation”? Psychiatric literature on adults describes various sexual orientations including tendencies towards animals; small children, inanimate objects and even corpses. However just because most would assume these behaviours would be aberrant and wrong does not mean that they are not sexual orientations. And given that there is no definition of sexual orientation in the legislation, what extremes could eventually be permitted under such a rubric?
It is our view that the concept of a human rights act or code is being changed by the introduction of the matter of sexual orientation. Previously, these acts or codes sought to protect people from discrimination based on unchangeable, morally neutral characteristics such as race, color, nationality or sex.
If such legislation is enacted, with the purpose of protecting people who practice a particular life-style or engage in certain sexual practices, legislation will become much more intrusive in the lives of people and organizations.
Those who wish to add “sexual orientation” to the human rights code refuse the term “equal rights.” Instead they ask that homosexuals receive special status as a specially protected group.
Homosexuals are already protected both by the Canadian Human Rights Act and provincial Human Rights Codes. What they want is special recognition of their life-style and sexual preference.
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada affirms the rights of all Canadians, including homosexuals, to share equally in the privileges of a free and democratic society.
We uphold the view that the Scriptures teach tat homosexual practice is unacceptable. At the same time, we call on all Christians to affirm justice and equality to all people.
We oppose the addition of the words “sexual orientation” to the federal Human Rights Act or to the provincial Human Rights code, for the creation of a special category protecting a particular lifestyle changes the purpose of the Act or a code.
Such an amendment:
- ends up making legislation more intrusive than is necessary, and than is intended.
- has the potential of “criminalizing” the behavior of ordinary people who are applying the ordinary standards of prudence and moral judgment.
- may support attempts to force through the legal system changes in the definitions of such fundamentals as marriage and adoption, changes that most citizens would disapprove of but would be powerless to erase.
If this kind of legislation were to be passed as “human rights” measure, it would be difficult indeed to recall. We therefore call on the governments concerned to withdraw this legislation and, if necessary, to work through their own considerable existing resources to combat victimization of homosexuals and other citizens.