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Canada's Gay Wedding Parties Political Drama PDF Print E-mail
Justice News
Thursday, 10 March 2005 03:03

Canada's Gay Wedding Parties Political Drama

Four dissident Tories (Conservatives) who will vote in favour of same-sex marriage know they?re asking for trouble. They?re working at public relations, taking care to clarify their positions to possibly cantankerous electors. Each has posted a long explanation on their website.

Wedding party politics - Eleanor Brown

What the heck is going to happen with the federal same-sex marriage bill? And what can we do to help the odds? In a free vote, politicians make their own beds. But in practice, they?re expected to cast their ballots with the leader, except for the ruling Liberals, that is, a party which long ago lost any semblance of a common philosophical foundation.

Putting the lie to the free vote, Cabinet members have been ordered onside. And here?s the equal and opposite reaction: dozens of backbenchers are rebelling. Add the undecideds, and the numbers are enough to put Bill C-38?s passage in doubt.

The antis are pushing hard for no votes ? like Scarborough Southwest?s Tom Wappel, a staunch Roman Catholic and long-time opponent of gay rights. ?I have no problem with consenting adults doing what they do in private,? Wappel says, but he opposes anything ?requiring me to accept what they do. I don?t want to know about it.?

Wappel (unsuccessfully) fought to keep sexual orientation out of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, precisely because he saw its adoption as the first step down a slippery slope. First homosexuality, then pedophilia, he?s predicted in the past.

In a February 18 speech in the House of Commons, Wappel warned that marriage is discriminatory in many ways, and a single change will open the floodgates. ?We cannot get married unless we are of a certain age. That is discrimination on the basis of age. We cannot get married if we do not have proper mental capacity. That is discrimination on the basis of disability. We cannot get married unless we are of the proper bloodline. That is discrimination on the basis of who our parents are or who our siblings are.... It discriminates against religion because it says we can only have in this country...one spouse: one wife or husband.?

In an interview with fab, Wappel says his electorate is onside. Not that it would matter much ? ?I take it into consideration,? he says, ?but at some point in time you have to go with what is best for the country.?

Opponents of queer matrimony cite a vast range of reasons for their disapproval. When it comes to a politician like Wappel, who has held his seat since 1988, the best bet for queer marriage advocates is simply not to bother. With other MPs, progress might be made by speaking back using specifically targeted arguments. Form letter campaigns won?t work. Activists need to research each opponent, because each has a different take.

But sometimes even careful research may not help. Bloc Qu?b?cois MP Roger Gaudet, representing the riding of Montcalm, can?t fully explain his anti-same-sex marriage position. ?I have no problems with gay people,? says Gaudet. While he is Roman Catholic, he?s ?no more religious than anyone else.?

?It?s more personal for me,? says Gaudet in a telephone interview conducted in French. He has gay family members and welcomes their partners. He supports full rights for same-sex couples, but clings to the hetero definition of the word ?marriage.? Gaudet says it?s difficult to spell out, but his feelings are based on tradition.

?People are not against gays, it?s not about judging people.? And he takes solace in the fact that some gay friends have told him that marriage is not a priority for them.
Making things even more difficult, Wappel and Gaudet are exceptions: few politicians will talk when the gay press comes a-calling. No other MPs (including the only other Bloc dissenter, Sherbrooke?s Serge Cardin) responded to fab?s multiple requests for an interview.

Manitoba?s Bev Desjarlais (Churchill) is the lone New Democrat (among a caucus of 19) who has declared her opposition to same-sex marriage. She has a tough decision to make.

Party leader Jack Layton has refused to allow a free vote in his party on the issue of queer weddings ? or any gay rights issue, for that matter. Two years ago, he told MPs considering a private member?s bill that would reinforce the straight definition of marriage to either swallow their dissent and cast their ballot with the party or stay away from the House of Commons on the day of the vote. ?It wasn?t a matter of conscience whether people have human rights,? he later told fab in an interview.

Desjarlais doesn?t want to talk at all ? she didn?t return fab?s calls, and there?s no mention of her same-sex marriage stance on her website.

As for changing the Conservatives? minds, good luck. Ninety-five are voting against same-sex marriage. The dinosaurs are firmly in charge ? ex-Canadian Alliance moralists whose sheer numbers overwhelm the more moderate Progressive Conservatives who bothered to stick around following the parties' merger.

The four dissident Tories who will vote in favour of same-sex marriage know they?re asking for trouble. They?re working at public relations, taking care to clarify their positions to possibly cantankerous electors. Each has posted a long explanation on their website.

?What moral or political authority do we have to deny gay Canadians the issuance of a government marriage licence?? asks MP Jim Prentice (Calgary Centre-North). ?The answer in my mind is clear. We have no such right at all because whether two people of the same sex marry, and how and whether their gender enters into the relationship, is none of the government?s business, providing they do no harm to anyone else.?

Prentice says this principle of live-and-let-live lies at the very heart of conservative ideology. The majority of his colleagues have neglected the party?s ideological foundations. But, unlike the Liberals, they?re generally united in the new orthodoxy.

MP Belinda Stronach (Newmarket-Aurora) writes that she is satisfied the government?s legislation protects religious rights, and supports equal access to civil marriage. ?I respect deeply the moral positions that some of you may have, but I cannot bring myself to support a status quo that says to another citizen that he or she cannot enjoy the same civil rights I already have.?

British Columbia MP James Moore (Port Moody-Westwood-Port Coquitlam) says the federal government shouldn?t be in the marriage business at all. In his vision, ?what would be established would be registered domestic partnerships or civil unions for all Canadians, and the word ?marriage? would be fenced off from politics and left in the hands of religious institutions. However, Canada?s Constitution mandates that the federal government define the word ?marriage,? and that definition must respect the Charter principle that all Canadians be treated equally under the law.?

Finally, there?s Nova Scotia?s Gerald Keddy (South Shore St. Margarets), who believes that the only way to stop legalized same-sex marriage now is by invoking the notwithstanding clause, which would overrule the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. ?I adamantly believe that this would be an abuse of civil rights that could lead to an erosion of other civil rights that Canadians have long cherished. I am not willing to agree to that in any way, shape or form.?

Interestingly, Keddy told CBC Newsworld that a poll of his constituents showed them to be evenly divided on the issue. If Keddy had decided to go the direct democracy route, he?d be left sitting on his hands.

Direct democracy was once a mainstay of Canadian Alliance party policy. But only one other Conservative MP, Calgary Centre?s Lee Richardson, has polled constituents on same-sex marriage, and recently announced a landslide against it. You could call it the coward?s way out; you could call it a legitimate effort to seek direction from the electorate on a divisive social issue.

In the last election campaign, Nova Scotia Liberal MP Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton-Canso) promised to canvass his riding on same-sex marriage. Over the last few weeks, every household received a survey, and 82% of respondents opposed queer marriage. ?To vote against my government is not a decision I have arrived at easily,? he writes in a media statement. ?I have based my decision on the collective wisdom of the people I represent and I am very comfortable in representing my position on the floor of the House of Commons.?

Ontario Liberal Bryon Wilfert (Richmond Hill) told the Toronto Star that a survey he issued received more than 5000 responses (compared to the usual 100 who respond to polls). ?I?m voting no to represent the vast majority of my constituents,? Wilfert said.

Doesn?t that make you want to ask for a recount? Are we just going to be outvoted every damn time? By the way, Wilfert?s riding has 110,000 people.

What?s the deal with all these numbers? A recent Canadians for Equal Marriage newsletter claims that 1.5 million pro-same-sex marriage emails have been sent out to MPs (its site, www.equal-marriage.ca, allows mass mail-outs). That works out to about 4900 emails per politician.

No one could read through that avalanche. And most emails to MPs won?t be from the constituents those politicians have sworn to represent. But the only other option is crossing your fingers.

? Eleanor Brown is a Montreal-based writer. Her blog is at www.OpinionatedLesbian.com

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 March 2005 03:03

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