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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Stephen Franks is a blow-hard 

Russell Brown is firing on all cylinders today (at least his blog entry is - wasn't able to catch him on Linda Clark's radio show) - providing an incisive commentary on the civil unions bill and the blackshirts, etc. Now I had this misfortune of hearing Stephen Franks, ACT List MP on the radio myself yesterday, and like Kent Brockman I'd like to add my two cents.

Franks made a number of absurd comments (I'll come to them in a minute), but more generally his argument (if one can call it that) was utterly lacking in logic.

His case for opposing the reforms was something along the lines of ... some people who support civil unions are part of a "homosexual lobby" or "malignant left" that also seeks to toughen hate speech regulations. I don't approve of the latter - because of the potential free speech implications - and I think religious believers & others who disapprove of homosexuality should be able to do so, loudly and frequently. And therefore ... I oppose the Civil Union Bill.

See the leap there? He opposes the Bill because some people who support it have a view he doesn't like ... on a completely different issue. He didn't have a case for opposing the actual institution of civil unions, or even suggest there was something inherently wrong with them.

Indeed, he specifically stated he'd actually support the Civil Unions Bill ... provided there was an amendment to say it didn't imply goverment endorsment of the relationships covered (read: homosexuality), and it wasn't a crime to criticize either homosexuality in particular or the institution civil unions in general. Wake up, clown, no one is proposing the institution of civil union be above criticism, or that the Civil Unions Bill prohibit people saying they don't approve of gays. For crying out loud, it's not a crime to criticize marriage either, and from time to time I do, either in particular (x and y probably shouldn't have got married) or in general (marriage is a problematic institution because historically it involved the contractual transferral of a woman from her father to her husband).

Franks also made a number of spurious claims about "the situation in Canada", specifically Quebec, where he quoted Marilyn Waring as saying that churches were being "forced" to marry homosexual couples (by the state, presumably), etc. In fact, I suspect he misquoted Waring. There have been disagreements within churches about whether or not to marry homosexuals, and sometimes disagreements between "head office" and particular diocese. In a couple of cases, head office has directly individual ministers or diocese to conduct ceremonies ... but there's absolutely no state coercion involved. In one instance, a gay couple tried to seek a court order for a church to marry them, but it was denied. And rightly so.

More generally, I'd like to claim there is absolutely no legitimate argument from "religious freedom" to oppose either Civil Unions or same-sex marriage.

The state is not forcing any religious institution to marry those it doesn't think should marry (and indeed, churches commonly place all sorts of restrictions on which heterosexual couples they will wed, often requiring them to be practicing believers).

The state is not forcing religious believers to marry anyone they don't want to marry (not even the blackshirts of the Destiny Church).

So there is no intrusion on religious freedom here. State coercion is completely absent. What religious opponents of civil unions and same-sex marriage are really saying is "we don't like the state recognizing homosexuality, purely because of our religious teachings/reading of holy texts". This is not a secular argument, it's a theological one, and it has no place in the governance of a secular society.


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