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Express your support for equal marriage to:

The Honourable Irwin Cotler Minister of Justice
284 Wellington Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8
Telephone: 613-957-4222
Fax: 613-990-7255
Email: Cotler.I@parl.gc.ca

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Advocacy - Letters - Justice Minister

Letter's To Canada's Justice Minister
A Call To Support Equal Marriage

January 30, 2005

Dear Minister Cotler,

I have heard that recent opinion polling results suggest that Canadians are broadly split three ways on the issue of same-sex marriage. One-third are fixed in opposition due to religious beliefs. One-third are clearly in favour, largely on the grounds of equality rights. And, one-third are not convinced either way, but lean towards the "compromise solution" of Civil-Unions because they are listening to Mr. Harper's claim that the issue is "not a human rights issue."

For months I have been perplexed by Mr. Harper repeating this claim without explanation. However, in a speech in Calgary on Thursday, January 27, 2005 as reported on CBC radio news on the morning of Friday January, 28, 2005 in Mr. Harper's own words he stated that the courts have never recognized "Lifestyle Choices" as a "right".

Mr. Harper finally disclosed his fundamentalist Christian roots and is parroting the stance of people like James Dobson, head of the US based Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family have programs to "turn" homosexuals because they believe that it is an affliction, not something someone simply "is".

By characterizing homosexuality as a lifestyle choice, similar, I presume, to the decision whether to buy a sports car or a mini-van, or to invest in a new computer or a big-screen TV, Mr. Harper is clearly at odds with the vast majority of those in the "middle third" who have until now accepted his, "it is not a human rights issue", argument without knowing the basis for Mr. Harper's position.

I believe it is absolutely essential that the Government do everything > possible to get Mr. Harper to clarify his "lifestyle choice" position in the House of Commons and in public forums so that those in the middle-third can more reasonably understand why it IS a human rights issue. Failing that, get a copy of the audio-clip and have Mr. Harper speak for himself over-and-over again. I firmly believe that most, other than the Evangelical groups, do not believe that people get out of bed one morning and decide to be homosexuals!

As for the other ludicrous junk like, polygamy, incest, bestiality, the collapse of civilization as we know it, only the hard-right third are buying that anyway.

Yours truly,

Bill Rathborne
London, Ontario


February 2, 2004

Dear Minister Cotler,

I am a lawyer who worked in government (Ontario Public Service) for 10 years in a number of policy positions relating to the promotion of equality for groups that historically have been disadvantaged in our society. I am concerned by reports that you are looking at the possibility of amending the reference to the Supreme Court of Canada to consider the constitutionality of making marriage a matter solely for religious institutions and civil unions would be essentially for anyone not wishing (or able to because their religion refuses to let them) to get married.

I am worried that only when gays and lesbians are on the threshold of attaining full Charter rights with respect to marriage is your government considering putting marriage essentially outside the protective reach of the Charter. Prior to our gains in this area of equality, no one seemed very interested in this idea of doing away with government-administered marriage. I am concerned that if marriage becomes the sole business of religious institutions, gays/lesbians as a historically disadvantaged group will be blocked from attaining marriage rights unless the very institutions that are often the most vociferous opponents of same-sex marriage deign to allow it. This concern flows from my belief that the notion of civil unions will take decades or longer to attain the same social acceptance that marriages have and therefore effectively the discrimination will continue except now it will be hidden behind religious robes and be exempt from section 15 Charter challenges.

I believe that the correct legal and human rights-based position is to say that not letting some Canadians marry just because others don't approve of who they want to marry has no place in Canada. Taking away everybody's right to marry except for those who are willing to turn to religion is not the direction I'd like to see Canada going when we have witnessed increasing political power emanating from the religious right across many faiths. I am not one for feeling very secure when it comes to religious institutions receiving powers from government that may well have the effect of permitting the discrimination to continue. And a backlash against gays and lesbians may follow if marriage is no longer civilly available. It is not that I think civil unions are a bad idea--it's just that it seems to be proposed solely in response to the clear direction that our courts are headed-i.e. calling discrimination against same-sex unions just that.

The concept of the government no longer being involved in the marriage arena reminds me of the situation of some friends who were active in a Toronto egalitarian Jewish congregation. When the women (who had been living as a couple for many years) applied to the synagogue for the "family membership" rate, the Board of Directors of this self-described "progressive" congregation responded that instead of allowing same-sex couples to join as a family, the congregation would no longer offer a family rate to any family. The idea to possibly end civil marriage for everyone just because gays/lesbians wanted to be included feels similar. It's equality with a vengeance.

Please ensure that your political response to pressure from those who wish the discrimination against us to continue does not come at the price of compromising my Charter rights. We have fought too long and too hard. I am asking you to have the courage exhibited by your predecessor to stand up and be counted when a group's human rights are at stake. Thank you.

Yours truly,

Wendy L. Gross

c.c.: The Prime Minister and Tony Ianno, MP


January 18, 2004

Dear Minister Cotler,

Allow us to introduce ourselves. We are a gay couple who have been in a committed relationship for 31 years and have lived together since we moved into our present home in Montreal in 1976. On September 14, 1998, we filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court to win the right to marry civilly thus initiating the present struggle in Canada to gain legal and social recognition for same-sex relationships through access to civil marriage.

As you are no doubt aware, we had a long battle to get to court but were finally heard in November 2001. Even though the Governments of Canada and of Quebec did everything possible to stop us, including adding a section to the Harmonisation Act which specifically denied same-sex marriage in Quebec and then legislating Civil Union in Quebec, we eventually won our court challenge on September 4, 2002. In her decision, the Honourable Justice Louise Lemelin of the Quebec Superior Court not only stuck down the offending provision of the Harmonisation Act but also ruled Section 1,1 of the Modernisation Act and Article 365 of the Quebec Civil Code inoperative, all as of September 5, 2004.

After our victory, your predecessor as Justice Minister appealed that decision but finally dropped the Government of Canada's appeal in July 2003.

We are writing you this open letter today to ask you four questions.

  1. In the December 13th, 2003 edition of The Montreal Gazette, the day after you were appointed Justice Minister, we read the following quotation attributed to you: "Whether it be the rights of gays and lesbians, or whether it be the rights of any minorities, for me equality rights are a fundamental principal which will guide my work."Thus we concluded that you supported our right to full civil and social equality as Canadian citizens including the right to marry in a civil ceremony. Was our conclusion correct?
  2. In the June 2003 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal in Halpern vs Canada, Justices McMurtry, Gillese and MacPherson ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry. In their decision they wrote: "This case is ultimately about the recognition and protection of human dignity and equality." Do you agree with the Justices that we, as two adult Canadian citizens, have the right to the recognition and protection of our human dignity and our equality including the right to marry?
  3. We have always believed that, in matters of rights, priority is determined by constitutions and not by public opinion or by majorities.* Do you agree that this is true?
  4. According to recent reports in the media, you are about to ask the Supreme Court of Canada if denying us equal rights and treatment under the law, by denying us access to civil marriage, is acceptable under our Charter of Rights. Again according to the media, you propose to consult with your fellow deputies, and then perhaps all Canadians, about offering us access to a secondary conjugal status called "Civil Union", which exists in Quebec already but which the Quebec Superior Court declared does not constitute equal treatment, as a kind of exchange. As someone who has a reputation as a strong supporter of international human rights, how do you explain this approach to dealing with equality rights in Canada? Can you think of other, similar situations that you as an expert consider just?

As you can imagine, we anxiously await your response to our questions. We are sure there must be some error on the part of the media. In fact, we look forward to working with you to assure that Canada's homosexual citizens finally have full equality rights including the right to assume their full and equal part in all civil aspects of our society.

Very sincerely yours,

Michael Hendricks and René LeBoeuf

* "En matière de droits, l'ordre des priorités doit être déterminé par la Constitution et non par l'opinion publique ou par des majorités" Hannah Arendt (1959) in "Réflexions sur Little Rock" cited in Penser l'événement, Paris, Berlin, 1989, p. 239.


December 12, 2003

Right Honourable Sir: It would be rather disingenuous of us, while sincerely congratulating you upon your appointment as Justice Minister and Attorney General of Canada, to not simultaneously express our grave concerns about your commitment to advocate for full and equal marriage rights throughout Canada for all human beings.

Your training and mentoring has been in the law - and we have spent hours studying the work product of an eminently distinguished legal and academic career. Yet as one trained to the doctoral level in theology, and my spouse to the graduate level in sociology, we do not pretend to fully understand the subtleties of civil law. We do however, understand the essential underpinings of all human intercourse - be it civil or spiritually canonical.

We realise that you were absent for the September 15 vote in the Commons, and have been concerned about several Liberal Members who have sought to filter civil law through Scriptural traditions, be it the Holiness Code, the Koran, or certain letters of Saint Paul to Christians living among pagans who engaged in prostitutional temple rites.

No one of my many friends in the rabbinate, be they Orthodox, Conservative or Reform in tradition, advocate the literal theocratic adjudications required by the Holiness Code. True, there are some fundamentalist Islamic nations that do condemn sexual transgressors with stoning even in the twenty-first century, but therein lies the problem with theocracy overwhelming civil democracy.

The McGill Daily, in an article titled "The Future of Religion and Society (Oct. 17, 2002) you wrote: "Emphasizing the necessity for religion to play a role in human rights, Cotler concluded, 'We must create a culture of respect, one that is not only legal but also that is anchored in the jurisprudence of the great religions."

Right Honourable Sir, we are men of faith who have devoted our lives to the service of others, albeit more humbly than you have. We have, in several letters to you in the past few months, told you of our twenty eight year struggle to obtain the civil and spiritual marriage that we received in August. I spoke of my 90 year old mother, born and raised in your riding, who taught secondary school and inculcated values in all her children. The " jurisprudence of the great religions ", yours and mine, is continually redefined in the light of our modern cosmology. It is amended as we are enlightened to do so. Our culture and our faith is fluid, ever evolving in a clearer definition of truth.

We also read about the admonition given to you by your then twelve-year old son when he learned of your intention to enter political life. Again, I quote: "In an interview with the McGill Reporter (Oct. 21, 1999), Cotler spoke of his 12-year-old son who questioned his reasons for entering politics. "He asks me why I want to be a politician. 'Politicians are crooks,' he says. He says I have a great reputation as a human rights lawyer. Why do I want to ruin it? ... If I feel that [life in Ottawa] is all about the pursuit of political power and not about the pursuit of principles, I'll be gone."

At 16, he must be quite a mensch and know that you must be proud of him. He knew then the difference between political science and statesmanship. We are aware of the political machinations in removing your predecessor and appointing you. You are aware, most assuredly, of the high esteem and regard that our community and its supporters feel for the Right Honourable gentleman, [Martin] Cauchon. We earnestly wish to hold you in equal regard as events unfold.

We, and the hundreds of thousands of gay and lesbian citizens, and our families and our supporters want equal marriage. We want our marriages to remain valid. We do not want you to remove marriage and all that entails both civilly and spiritually, from us or from opposite sex couples. That is definitely, as my friend Kevin Bourassa mentioned, is " equality with a vengeance. " As your predecessor came to realise, there is no other course to take in a just society and as members of our Liberal Party that gave us our Charter. All that is lacking is the political will and the courage of statesmanship.

We are praying for you - for Solomonic wisdom is indeed the spiritual order of the day. Then, of course, there is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in both its legal and canonical sense.

Respectfully yours,

Raymond E. Sawyer-Smith, PhD
Albert W. Sawyer-Smith, MSW


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