Prince Edward Island's reputation for traditional values suffers a blow

TORONTO—Church and pro-life groups are dismayed with a decision by the Prince Edward Island (PEI) government to provide human rights protection for the gay lifestyle.

Following the example of other provincial governments, Canada's smallest province recently voted to amend its human rights code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation and family status.” Prince Edward Island now becomes the last Canadian province to enact gay rights legislation.

Organizations supporting the traditional family see a certain tragic symbolism in the government's action. Prince Edward Island has long been referred to as “Canada's life sanctuary” because abortion is not available throughout the province. It is also home to a high proportion of Catholics and others upholding a traditional view of marriage and family.

In arguing for the legislation, former PEI attorney general Mitch Murphy said adding sexual orientation to the human rights code would satisfy homosexual groups in their demand for a mechanism to lodge discrimination complaints. Murphy also said the bill maintains a traditional view of marriage, a move he believed would appease pro-family interests.

While the Church does not condemn homosexuals, it teaches that living out the homosexual orientation in homosexual activity is not a morally acceptable option.

Nonetheless, pro-life groups on Prince Edward Island said the action in effect provides special status to gays and lesbians. They say people of homosexual orientation are already protected from discrimination by existing human rights laws. With the latest changes, however, the government is giving sanction to alternative lifestyles, and many suspect it will lead to legal recognition of homosexual marriage.

Writing in a national newsletter, Campaign Life Coalition president Jim Hughes speculated that the human rights changes could open the door to even greater acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle. Campaign Life Coalition is Canada's most influential pro-life, pro-family organization.

“It used to be politicians would dismiss concerns about the enormous implications of such a change, but (the PEI attorney general) seems resigned to what his bill really means for the province,” Hughes said. “It's reported that he is already expecting the law will be challenged in court, with a view to expanding its meaning to include gay marriage. It seems he thinks it's a matter for unaccountable judges, rather than elected representatives to decide.”

Hughes’ comments underscore a long-standing concern of Canadian pro-life, pro-family organizations that sympathetic court rulings, and “judicial activism” advance the cause of the gay rights lobby.

Human rights protection for homosexuals has become a divisive issue in Canada during the last several years. A number of legal battles — including a celebrated case in Alberta in which the Canadian Supreme Court ordered the province to add sexual orientation to its human rights code — have left gay rights groups and pro-family supporters at a bitter impasse. Many lament the view of homosexuals as a persecuted minority which requires special protection under human rights codes.

Prince Edward Island pro-life groups say the human rights code changes came about without sufficient input from island residents. A coalition made up of the Knights of Columbus, PEI Right to Life, the pro-life REAL Women of Canada, and several Protestant pastors failed in its bid to have the legislation withdrawn. This coalition was dismissed as “a fringe group” by the province's largest newspaper and by forces supporting gay rights on PEI.

Doreen Beagan, a member of REAL Women of Canada, led the opposition to the human rights code changes. REAL Women is a pro-family organization supporting traditional roles for women.

Beagan believes the PEI government took its action out of fear it would appear out of step with the other nine Canadian provinces, each of which has outlawed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The province was also unduly influenced, she said, by lobbying efforts by Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere (EGALE), an Ottawa-based gay activist group.

“I can't help but believe that our leaders bought into the propaganda put forward by this group,” Beagan said. “There hasn't been a large public outcry now that the legislation has been changed, but I don't think this is the last we've seen from these pro-homosexual groups.” Beagan added that her efforts to oppose the changes led to her being branded “paranoid” and “hate-filled” by the local media.

Beagan said while it is important to avoid unjust discrimination in one's treatment of homosexual persons, there should be room for necessary commentary and warning about immoral behavior.

Gwen Landolt, national president of the REAL Women organization, told the Register that the PEI case is typical of other Canadian provinces in their handling of the gay rights issue.

“The amendment in Prince Edward Island, which is clearly contrary to the views of the majority of the population, is an example of how homosexual activists achieve their objectives,” she said. “They get one province, or corporation, on their side and then use that as a lever to demand equal protection across other areas in other provinces and other corporations.” Landolt, an attorney and noted critic of Canada's justice system, believes sexual orientation should never have become a human rights item. “Sexual orientation cannot be equated to other areas of human rights protection,” she said.

“The Human Rights Code provides protection on the basis of color, race, and sex. The latter are unchangeable characteristics, for which there is widespread support for protection among Canadians. Protection on the basis of sexual orientation however, is a changeable characteristic which has been unable to generate widespread support anywhere in Canada. Never before has there been protection for a lifestyle or sexual activity in human rights legislation.”

For his part, Bishop Vernon Fougere of the Charlottetown, PEI Diocese, has appealed for a tolerant approach to the controversy. “In the area of sexual responsibility, the Church teaches that certain sexual behaviors are wrong,” Bishop Fougere said in a statement. “While the Church does not condemn homosexuals, it teaches that living out the homosexual orientation in homosexual activity is not a morally acceptable option. However … the Church is not giving you or me the right to discriminate against the homosexual person.”

Bishop Fougere pointed to statements from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which uphold the rights of all persons to be treated in a dignified manner. At the same time, he said, all rights must be guided by responsibilities, and that “disordered external conduct” may limit individual rights.

“The Church has a duty to teach respect for the human person and to absolve the sinner who repents and confesses,” the bishop added. “The best way is always the way of love, no matter what.”

Mike Mastromatteo writes from Toronto, Canada.