So far, churches have been allowed to refuse to consecrate same-sex marriages, but a campaign has begun to remove tax-free status from religious institutions that make this choice. When asked about how this would undermine charitable efforts in behalf of the poor and homeless undertaken by numerous Christian churches, one of the leaders of Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere, a Canadian gay-rights advocacy group, replied: “We’ll only take away charitable status from the buildings where the priests live and where the people pray.”
As colossally ignorant and threatening as this sounds, it is also downright disingenuous. Four years ago, a Christian organization in Ontario that works with some of the most marginalized disabled people in the country was taken to court because of its disapproval of an employee who wanted to be part of a same-sex marriage. The government paid the group to do the work because, frankly, nobody else was willing to. As with so many such bodies, it had a set of policies for its employees. While homosexuality was not mentioned, the employment policies did require that employees remain chaste outside of marriage, and marriage was interpreted as the union of a man and a woman. The group was told it had to change its hiring and employment policy or be closed down; as for the disabled people being helped, they were hardly even mentioned.
In small-town British Columbia, a Knights of Columbus chapter rented out its building for a wedding party. They were not aware that the marriage was to be of a lesbian couple, even though the lesbians were well aware that the hall was a Roman Catholic center — it’s increasingly obvious that Christian people, leaders, and organizations are being targeted, almost certainly to create legal precedents. The managers of the hall apologized to the couple but explained that they could not proceed with the arrangement, and agreed to find an alternative venue and pay for new invitations to be printed. The couple said that this was not good enough, and the hall management was prosecuted. The human-rights commission ruled that the Knights of Columbus should not have turned the couple down, and imposed a small fine on them. The couple have been vague in their subsequent demands, but feel that the fine and reprimand are inadequate.
As I write, two Canadian provinces are considering legislation that would likely prevent educators even in private denominational schools from teaching that they disapprove of same-sex marriage, and a senior government minister in Ontario recently announced that if the Roman Catholic Church did not approve of homosexuality or gay marriage, it “would have to change its teaching.” What has become painfully evident is that many of those who brought same-sex marriage to Canada have no respect for freedom of conscience and no intention of tolerating contrary opinion, whether that opinion is shaped by religious or by secular belief. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which has just turned 30 years old, fundamentally changed the direction of the legal system, emphasizing communities more than individuals. This has empowered minority groups with the most appeal to quash individual freedom by exercising their political and judicial influence. The system in the United States is different, more concerned with freedom of speech, and generally more respectful of the individual. But the groups and activists trying to silence their opponents are arguably even more radical and vociferous south of the border and, anyway, legal and political assumptions are capable of change; they certainly changed in Canada.
The Canadian litany of pain, firings, and social and political polarization and extremism is extraordinary and lamentable, and we haven’t even begun to experience the mid- and long-term results of this mammoth social experiment. I seldom say it, but for goodness’ sake learn something from Canada.
— Michael Coren is a Canadian TV host and columnist, and the author, most recently, of Heresy: Ten Lies They Spread about Christianity. This article originally appeared in the June 11, 2012, issue of National Review.