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Britain's Cardinal Keith O'Brien says nations such as Canada that legalize gay marriage are 'shaming themselves.' (David Moir/Reuters/David Moir/Reuters)
Britain's Cardinal Keith O'Brien says nations such as Canada that legalize gay marriage are 'shaming themselves.' (David Moir/Reuters/David Moir/Reuters)

Use of UN human rights standard to condemn gay marriage disturbing Add to ...

According to Britain’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien, countries – such as Canada – that legalize gay marriage are “shaming themselves” by defying natural law. This prince of the Church went so far as to use the word “grotesque” in his recent comments. While his language was harsh and his views regrettable, they are unsurprising.

The Pope recently denounced what he termed powerful political and cultural currents seeking to legalize gay marriage in the United States, where eight states now permit it.

The Roman Catholic Church has a rich theological and doctrinal tradition on which to base its opposition to gay marriage, and to condemn it, as Cardinal O’Brien did, even as an “aberration” contributing to immorality. What is odd, and disturbing, however, is that the Cardinal did not justify his views only on the basis of church teaching, but also on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Responding to the current debate in Britain over gay marriage (the country permits civil unions between homosexuals, but not marriage), he said: “We’re taking standards which are not just our own, but standards from the Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations, where marriage is defined as a relationship between man and woman, and turning that on its head.”

The wording of the Declaration is not so clear as the Cardinal implies. To begin with, it does not say “man and woman,” but rather “men and women,” which allows for a broader interpretation. (In Article 16, it states, “Men and women of full ages, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family.”) There should, however, be no room for ambiguity left in a document that is at the foundation of our concept of human rights. If the United Nations’ statement of fundamental principles of human rights can be used to promote inequality for homosexuals, then it is failing in its duty to humanity. The Declaration is an inspired, sweeping statement of human values, far-reaching in its aspirations. It cannot be used, in the way that religious tracts can be used, as a justification for intolerance.

Far from shaming themselves, countries such as Canada are fulfilling the Declaration's noble purpose.

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