Last night Canada became only the third country in the world to adopt a law
permitting same-sex couples to marry and have the same rights and
responsibilities as heterosexual married couples.
Leading up to the passing of the law, many religious groups indulged in fear
mongering and invoked religion to demand a second class status for Canada's
gays and lesbians.
The Muslim Canadian Congress is perhaps the only Muslim organisation that
stood up for support of gay and lesbian rights. Here is what I wrote in the
Waterloo Record in February this year.
February 10, 2005, p. A9
Some Muslims are supportive of same-sex marriage
By TAREK FATAH
The Record, Waterloo
Zubair Choudhury, a Muslim spokesperson of the Conservative party, recently
mused that the problem with same-sex marriage is that if we allow
homosexuals to marry, then they will want to adopt children and then these
children will grow up to be gays.
He was participating in a TV debate defending his party's opposition to
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler's Bill C-38.
Apparently, the contradiction in his logic was lost on him. For if children
of gay parents stand a chance of ending up as gays, then children of
heterosexual parents should also grow up as straight kids. But the fact is
all gays were born to straight parents.
I would like to give Choudhury the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he simply
does not understand that gays are born gay by God's will and that
homosexuality is not a choice people make like buying cars or TV sets.
Unfortunately, he is not alone. One Toronto-area imam was caught on the CBC
as saying that allowing gays to marry would be the first step towards
permitting incest. Other Muslim social conservatives and extremists have
made no secret of the fact that they consider same-sex marriage as
equivalent to bestiality. The hate against Canada's gays and lesbians has
a new legitimacy; homophobia now comes carefully camouflaged as opposition
to Cotler's proposed legislation.
The ill informed have now been joined by the Waterloo-based Canadian Islamic
Congress. In a press release issued last week, the congress said, "Marriage
has been a religiously defined institution for ages in all religions."
Describing the introduction of the bill as "politically suicidal for a
minority government with such fragile credibility," the congress stated the
bill does not protect religious institutions against charges of
discrimination. It raised the complaint by a B.C.
lesbian couple against the Knights of Columbus for refusing to rent them a
The case is now before the B.C. human rights tribunal. The congress claimed,
"If Bill C-38 passes, there could be many more such cases." What the
congress failed to mention is that the Knights of Columbus is a service
organization, not a religious one. Although it is a Roman Catholic group, it
rents its hall to the public and has never made any requirement in the past
for the renters to follow Roman Catholic practices. The case has nothing to
do with marriage and will be won or lost on the B.C. human rights code, not
on Bill C-38.
Lost to the congress was the fact while the Qur'an specifies who can marry
(and does not explicitly exclude same-sex marriages), there is no
requirement in Islam for a Muslim cleric to be involved in the marriage
ceremony, or that it take place in a mosque. As such, while some Muslims may
not recognize or approve of same-sex marriages, it appears that Muslim
opponents of such marriages have no capability, with or without Bill C-38,
to prevent Muslim same-sex couples from marrying using Islamic customs.
However, not all Muslims are opposed to equality rights of gays and
lesbians. The Muslim Canadian Congress, a Toronto-based grassroots
organization, welcomed the legislation presented and has urged Muslims and
other minority groups to stand in solidarity with gays and lesbians.
Addressing a press conference in Ottawa on the first reading of Bill C-38,
Rizwana Jafri, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress, said Muslim
Canadians have experienced life as a marginalized minority and have relied
on the Canadian Charter of Rights to fight for their right to be treated as
equal citizens. "It is incumbent upon us, as a minority, to stand up in
solidarity with Canada's gays and lesbians despite the fact that many in our
community believe our religion does not condone homosexuality," she added.
"This legislation is not about religion; it is about fundamental and
universal human rights that are a guarantee that all Canadians, irrespective
of their religious or ethnic background, feel part of the same family.
While, within this family, we may agree to disagree, we must respect each
other and treat others with dignity that is a hallmark of civil society,"
Muslims and other racial and religious minorities in Canada must understand
that same-sex marriage is today legal in seven Canadian provinces and
applicable to 90 per cent of the Canadian population. Whether Bill C-38
succeeds or fails, gay and lesbian marriages will continue to be legal
across Canada. By being party to discrimination against a minority, in the
future, we Muslims will have little credibility when we protest the
discrimination that so many of us face on a daily basis.
Human rights are universal rights.
These rights need to be respected even when they apply to groups that we may
find contravening our religious teachings.
If conservative Muslims start opposing same-sex marriage legislation today,
what will they demand next? The annulment of laws permitting the sale of
pork in Hogtown?
Tarek Fatah of Toronto is host of the Muslim Chronicle on Crossroad
Television System, and a
board member of the New York-based Progressive Muslim Union of North