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The case for civil unions

Fr Matthew Ragbir makes his presentation. At right is moderator Natasha Lamy-Ramsden.

Simone Delochan, sdelochan.camsel@rcpos.org

On the evening of Friday June 15, Archbishop Jason Gordon along with Spiritual Director/Theological Adviser of the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission, Fr Matthew Ragbir and Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice, Leela Ramdeen met with the faithful at Fatima Church, Curepe for the first ‘Live Conversations with Archbishop J’. This is the second of two articles, reporting on the discussions held on LGBTQI issues and the Church.

Maintaining that the Church’s position against same-sex marriage is not discriminatory, the archbishop, queried, “Do they have their right to happiness? Of course they do.” He went on to proffer State responsibility in ensuring provision for the legal and economic implications in long-term, same-sex unions.

Likening it to the Co-habitational Relationship Act, commonly known as the ‘Common Law Act’, he stated that non-legal unions had been a structure in Caribbean society for hundreds of years until the State acknowledged that there had to be protection for them and the unions were consequently regulated. “Inheritance, insuring they have medical rights, for insuring different things, children and heredity—the same way we protected the non-legal union, the same way the State can protect the union of the same sex couple. But is that marriage? That’s a different thing.”

He commented if the ‘Common Law’ Act was changed to a Partnership Act, with the concomitant rights and privileges, then “that is what would be required to ensure the human rights of every citizen of the country”. He went on to explain that the argument of the LGBT+ group with regard to a lack of legal framework to protect their rights was true.

“Does that mean that that union is a union we should promote? We don’t promote the common-law union. We try to help common-law unions to regularise it and we work with them towards that…we work

with them, we welcome them, we protect them. We need to treat it [same-sex civil unions] in an analogous way…but we keep marriage for what it is…. Marriage has some particularities about it.”

The archbishop also highlighted the ruling in 2017 by 47 judges in the Court of Strasbourg (European Court of Human Rights) which stated that there was no right to homosexual marriage. In the proclamation, the court upheld that in the term ‘family’ is “the traditional concept of marriage, that is, the union of a man and a woman”, and declared that governments do not have an “obligation to open marriage to persons of the same sex”. It continued that with regard to any citing of discrimination on that premise, there is no discrimination, since “states are free to reserve marriage only to heterosexual couples”.

The judgement was based on Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights which states that “the family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”. Said Archbishop Gordon: “There is no right to marriage. What there is, is a right to protection.”

Leela Ramdeen, citing Pope Francis’ own comment, “Let’s call this ‘civil unions’,” went on to share the rights given to civil unions in England and America, “…tax credits, no inheritance tax… bereavement leave, employment benefits including health insurance, joint ownership of property…joint parental rights…”. This is why, she said, in some countries, some members of the LGBTQI are fighting for that at least.

In response to recognition by an audience member that there was a measure of distortion and omission in what was relayed to the public in both secular and social media, the archbishop asked that the faithful check the veracity of anything they came across with the team at CAMSEL (Catholic Media Services Limited), and they themselves correct any flawed information on social media. He acknowledged that there was “a lot of misinformation out there”.

His Grace commented he was aware of the nature of the personal attacks launched against him and the Catholic Church following the June 11 press conference and responded that in the ad limina visit to Rome, the question was asked of Pope Francis on how he handled the sometimes-harsh online criticism and the fake news. The pope replied that he did not read it.

The archbishop said he follows that but was kept aware of what was being said usually by CAMSEL and other sources. To counteract the negativity, a reminder went out to those gathered in Fatima Church and the wider Church community: “You need to be the voice of the Church, also.”