Same-sex marriage on honeymoon during election?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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"When the wheels of Parliament grind too slowly even for the turtle pace of the justice system; when the ostrich is well on the way to becoming the de facto mascot of the federal government, is it any wonder Canadians are less and less inclined to feel that voting in elections matters?"
Chantal Hébert, "Liberals dither on gay unions", The Toronto Star, June 12, 2003

 

 

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"Here's a question on which the country is split down the middle, one that has the potential to polarize the electorate as nothing has since the 1988 election was transformed into a referendum on free trade."
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Adovcacy News - Gay marriage on honeymoon for election?

May 28, 2004 (Updated May 29)

Gay marriage on honeymoon during election?
Religious extremists try to keep agenda of hate alive

"I think we have more serious issues to discuss than this. The price of gas goes up, but the guy making $8 an hour doesn't get a raise." That's an issue worth voting about."
Leonce Gauthier, The Globe and Mail, May 27, 2004


Same-sex marriage has been on the front pages of the nation's newspapers since 2000, when the legal challenges in Canada began to get underway. One need only review the media postings, parliamentary testimony, court hearings, and religious positions to know that marriage equality has been a dominant preoccupation for others, beyond the people in the wedding parties.

The most vocal opposition to same-sex marriage has come from extremist religious leaders and the politicians under their influence. They've done their best to build a backlash against gay marriage, working tirelessly, but with no success at stopping the progress of equality and human rights (perhaps they get a membership or funding boost for their efforts).

Now that a federal election is underway in Canada, we decided to see if same-sex marriage was the big issue that our opponents have made of it. Leading up to the election, anti-gay advocacy groups had placed advertisements and opinion pieces in prominent national media, preparing the way, they hoped, for a voter backlash. "Talking gay marriage during an election campaign won't be pretty. As a topic, it doesn't lend itself to an event generally characterized by blarney-style speeches, backslapping and baby-kissing."
Barbara Yaffe, "Election no place for nasty, single-issue debate", Vancouver Sun, Aug. 7, 2003

"I suggest to you that you make the next election a referendum on marriage and on democracy itself," Rev. William Oosterman of the Christian Coalition of Canada told a crowd of anti-gay protestors on Parliament Hill last August.

Canadian Catholic voters and politicians had already received their orders from the Vatican, through the Pope's Nov. 4, 2000 address, and last year's Considerations document. In Canada, the Canadian Catholic Bishops publication, "Election 2004 - Responsibility and Discernment", provides a helpful list of key Catholics beliefs to look for in a politician. Among them is "Support for Marriage and the Family". You can be sure the good Bishops intend to shut gay people, and their children, out of Catholic life, and indeed out of Canadian life too. The Catholic version of secular life.It's all for "the good of society".

Just to be sure that Canadian voters get the idea, Catholic Bishops have adopted a logo that shows a crucifix in a voting selection box. No separation of church and state here: Catholic infallibility is foisted on all Canadians.

"What means will [politicians] take to maintain the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman which is ordered to the good of the couple and the procreation and education of children?" the Bishops ask. "Will the upcoming federal election reflect this concern?"

So far, the answer to the Bishops' question is a big fat NO.


Marriage is mostly a non-issue on the main political party web sites.

We visited the election web sites of the three main Canadian political parties: the Liberal Party, The Conservative Party (recently taken over by the much-feared Alliance Party), and the New Democratic Party.

"This is an issue," Scarborough East Liberal MP John McKay told the Globe and Mail less than a year ago (Aug. 1, 2003). "In the six years I've been in Parliament, no issue, not even remotely, has generated the calls and e-mails that this one has."

So you might expect to find marriage front and centre in this election? Think again.

The Liberal Party has perhaps the best web site of all the political parties, but a search on "marriage" or "equality" or "human rights" didn't turn up a single entry. The issues of their campaign can be found in their policy section: fiscal management, globalization, children, disabled Canadians, democratic reform, new deals for cities, health, regional development, etc. The absence of marriage is consistent with the party's intention to "punt" the issue beyond the election by downplaying it now. Liberal leader Paul Martin lacks the conviction and integrity to go with the true Liberal values embodied by Trudeau's Just Society. It's understandable, given the enormous voter anger over Liberal Party corruption and financial scandal."If same-sex marriage does become law, though, either by fiat of the Supreme Court or through a parliamentary vote, you can forget about keeping church and state in separate closets. During the next federal election, seats will be won and lost over this wedge issue and politicians will play the religion card shamelessly once again."
Editorial, The Halifax Herald, Aug. 8, 2003

The Conservative Party, home of the rabid social conservatives and extremists from the former body-snatcher-like Alliance Party, should be the place to go for attacks against equality. Although not yet front and centre, "Definition of Marriage" is found in the party's list of issues:

"The Conservative Party will fight to give a greater voice to Parliament. We will ensure that issues like marriage are decided by parliament, not the courts." It's a terrifying promise, considering that we live in a constitutional democracy, and bigots cannot impose their views on other Canadians, without over-riding our Charter protections (something this party's leader has said he is willing to do). "When asked if he [Harper], as prime minister, would use the notwithstanding clause of the Constitution to suspend the equality rights of gay Canadians to achieve his goal, his answer Wednesday was a cautious yes."
"Will same-sex marriages become election issue?", The Toronto Star, June 20, 2003

The New Democratic Party "issues" section of their campaign web site lists only two platforms: environment and health. Although this party has a long record of defending LGBT rights, and the party is on record as a supporter of equal marriage (including campaign brochures that are being distributed in the riding), we could find no mention of their outstanding support for marriage equality (and acceptance of diversity in general) in their online campaign material. We thought it was a virtue that doth not speak its name until someone helpfully pointed out that the NDPs full platform does support same-sex couples (see "Respecting Equality", page 38 of the platform) by:

  • Recognizing the equality of loving adult partnerships by extending civil marriage equality to same-sex couples, while respecting each religion's right to determine its own definition of marriage.
  • Abandoning Paul Martin's appeal of the court decision extending retroactive CPP survivor benefits for same-sex couples.

Still, even though these are early days of the election campaign, it is no wonder yesterday's Globe and Mail ran a comment piece with the headline "Same-sex marriage may be a non-issue".

We wish.

"If we have to fight an election on this I can say with some confidence there are a few members of Parliament who in campaigning for this may not be returning with us after the next election."
Liberal MP Dan MCTeauge, the Toronto Star, Aug. 3, 2003

Certainly at the grass-roots level that is increasingly becoming the case. A year ago, Carleton University (Ottawa) social history professor Barbara Freemen told the Toronto Star (June 22, 2003), "People now say, `Private life is private life. We don't want other people interfering. If we're not hurting anyone, what's the problem? Why are you in my face?' It's a collective growing up ... people are too damn busy to care; they're working hard, they have other things on their mind. If you're going to get hot under the collar, it's because you have a religious conviction to uphold."

The day is coming when a gay marriage will be no more remarkable than an opposite-sex marriage. Just as mixed-race marriages are no longer remarkable as they once were. We're not quite there yet.

Some of our political opponents and supporters fear voters alike and both sides seem to have closeted this issue for now in order to avoid what they see as a no-win situation. Say nothing and you can pretend it's not there.

"Here's a question on which the country is split down the middle, one that has the potential to polarize the electorate as nothing has since the 1988 election was transformed into a referendum on free trade."
L. Ian Macdonald, the Gazette, Aug. 6, 2003

If same-sex marriage remains a "non-issue" for the remainder of the election, the announced legislation in support of marriage equality should be treated in the same manner when it arrives in Parliament next year: a bridging of an equality gap that should not distract our politicians from focusing on more important tasks at hand.

Then, at last, marriage equality for gays and lesbians will be well on the way to becoming a "non-issue" in Canadian politics, as it should be.


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