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Liberals playing politics with gay rights PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Wednesday, 26 January 2005 00:58

Liberals playing politics with gay rights

JACK LAYTON

"It's time Martin found that courage. Liberals said last June that voting for their candidates meant "protecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." After making this pledge, Martin has no obligation to appease extremists, but rather a duty to respect the votes he sought." 

Playing politics with rights

JACK LAYTON

Kim Campbell once said elections were no time for substantive debate, and sadly, she's right. We no longer bother judging Liberal values based on their choices in office, but rather their words in campaigns. We focus on polls not policy, and voters are herded into making what they are told is a strategic vote.

As the last election wound down, Paul Martin urged New Democrats to vote Liberal in order to protect the Charter of Rights from the Conservatives. Many put aside anger over Liberal corruption and voted out of fear rather than hope.

It is the favourite Liberal election theme.They have no qualms about running on social moderation with extremists as candidates. But as Martin's recent threat to call an election over the Charter shows, today's Liberals are not who they tell us.

It is time Martin took responsibility for his rhetoric, and stopped playing politics with human rights. If equal marriage is about protecting the Charter, it should not be a free vote for Liberal MPs. Protecting the Charter cannot be important enough to go the polls over, yet inconsequential enough to allow Liberal MPs to join Harper in trampling over its protections.

After all, Martin spent a good part of June saying how vital it was to stop Harper's attack on the Charter. He did not tell people that a third of the Liberals elected would agree with Harper. Martin now has an obligation to ensure Liberal MPs vote in accordance with the values he portrayed, wrongly, as theirs.

Within the Liberal caucus are MPs who call for the notwithstanding clause to be invoked, and who voted against including sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act. They have fought lesbian and gay equality for a decade.

During that time, a Liberal majority government did not see Charter rights as sacred. It consistently appealed court rulings on such basic issues as allowing pension rights to same-sex couples. Given this history and a caucus packed with MPs opposed to equality, Martin owes us more than hyperbole about human rights.

The NDP is not holding a free vote on lesbian and gay equality, despite criticism from some who feel this is unfair. I believe it is fair and consistent with what we tell voters we believe.

No party would hold a free vote on religious freedom or racial equality, and the only difference between equality of the races and gay equality is that one is controversial. If we would not sanction a free vote on mixed marriage, why would we sanction it on equal marriage?

My party ran on platforms in both 2000 and 2004 that extended equality. We did not dither and seek refuge behind courts, but advocated MPs take their responsibility to equality seriously and extend it. The backlash we see against the courts today would be smaller had Parliamentarians found the courage to lead on this issue rather than follow.

It's time Martin found that courage. Liberals said last June that voting for their candidates meant "protecting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." After making this pledge, Martin has no obligation to appease extremists, but rather a duty to respect the votes he sought.

This week's Liberal caucus meeting provides him that opportunity. He can show he does not simply invoke the Charter when he needs votes, but understands why people support it. Citizens do not support equality because it flows from the Charter. We support the Charter because it reflects our commitment to equality.

The debate about lesbian and gay equality should be human, not legal. It should be about our respect for each other, not a piece of paper.

The Prime Minister has fought one election and threatened another around the Charter of Rights. He said Liberals agreed on protecting its rights, and he is now obliged to present the same stark choice to them that he gave to Canadians. In June, he asked Canadians to choose their Canada, and now it is time to tell Liberal MPs to choose theirs.


Jack Layton is leader of the federal NDP
Last Updated on Wednesday, 26 January 2005 00:58
 

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