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Adovcacy News - Cleaning house

August 8, 2003

Cleaning house
Free vote for equal marriage

"If the bill is defeated in the House, the law in Ontario and British Columbia, where the court also ruled in favour of same-sex unions will not change. Gay and lesbian couples will still be allowed to marry."
The Globe and Mail, August 8, 2003


Religious and conservative extremists have been busy flooding the offices of Members of Parliament with phone calls, emails, faxes and letters, all demanding that politicians vote against the new marriage legislation that the Prime Minister of Canada promised to support on June 17, following our June 10 victory in court. M.P.'s have not been receiving a similar response from constituents in favour of equality. Why?

Most people understand that the courts have repeatedly ruled that gay and lesbian couples enjoy the same protections under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as any other citizen. Politicians can draft and pass any law they want, but if it does not comply with Charter it will be ruled of no force and effect.

Politicians are not free to do what ever they want. They are not empowered solely by the will of their constituents or clergy, thank god. They must govern within the authority of our constitution. When they refuse to do so, as they so often have when it comes to the lives of gays and lesbians, unjust laws are defeated, time and again, in court.

"Catholic bishops and other religious leaders can spit hellfire and brimstone against same-sex marriages. Liberal MPs, reflecting their own views or those of their constituents, can moan and threaten to vote against any bill authorizing it. Citizens can fire off all the letters and e-mails they like. They will lose the debate, because there is no debate. There is no debate in law, as opposed to politics, because the courts have spoken. And when courts speak, the debate is over. Critics of same-sex marriage apparently misunderstand Canadian democracy. They believe that by mobilizing their arguments, and the political pressure of those who accept those arguments, the political system can be moved. They are wrong on all counts. Canada is not a parliamentary democracy. It is, courtesy of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a constitutional democracy, of which legislatures are only a part."
Jeffrey Simpson, The Globe and Mail, August 2, 2003

In the past, our political leaders, including Prime Minister Chretien (who should know better, as one who helped draft the Charter), have been unwilling to lead by example in extending full rights to the gay community. Instead, the Liberal party has let the courts do what should have been done by Parliament. This has led to the perception, amongst conservatives and so-called-liberals, that the rights in our land are divisible: applicable to some but not others. They are wrong.

The Liberal party dithered and delayed, fighting same-sex marriage on three fronts in Ontario, Quebec, and B.C. When the courts spoke they ignored the message or prevaricated as much as possible. Last November, the Justice Minister released a white-paper for discussion and then launched Parliamentary hearings to discuss the issue. To what end? It served as a platform for bigots who puked up their bile, while gays and lesbians were put in the position of pleading for rights that are theirs in the first place.

The Ontario Court of Appeal spoke with a finality that was undeniable, by opening the door to marriage with a force that will never allow this institution to be closed to us again. Parliament's marriage committee was exposed to be the sham that it always was: ill-conceived, poorly managed, and in the end impotent to do anything else but comply with the Charter, as evident in the committee's rigged vote for acceptance of the decision of the Ontario court.

Still, the Prime Minister has not learned. Despite taking the hell-heat from the villainous Vatican, Chretien has not stepped up to the issue with the force of a leader.

"While opposition members, conservative critics and the Catholic Church have screamed blue murder," wrote the Ottawa Citizen (Aug. 7), "the politicians behind the bill have mostly been silent."

The issue of gay marriage, says the Citizen, "divides Canadians into three groups. On one side is a supportive minority, made up mostly of a quiet, almost ambivalent younger demographic along with more vocal members of the gay community. On the other is an older, more conservative and considerably louder minority well-represented on radio call-in shows, letters pages, and Canadian Alliance benches. And in the middle are a great many Canadians too conflicted to definitively decide either way."

Leadership is required, with strong convictions and a willingness to step out front, speaking to the voters, and ruling the governing party with a strong hand. Not since Pierre Trudeau, has this country had a politician that seems up to the task. "Today," the Citizen writes, "the gay marriage debate cries out for similar leadership."

The failing of the Liberal party will not lose us our right to marriage in Ontario and B.C., but it does delay that right in the rest of Canada. And it gives hope to those who wish we were all back in the closet where we would "shut up", as Elsie Wayne whines. Until the Liberal leaders learn their lesson, they will pay a cost.

"A Tory leader will sooner rip up the free trade agreement than a Liberal prime minister will ever lead Parliament down the path of sheltering a law from the Constitution. And that means the many Liberal MPs who are promising their constituents that they will go to the barricades to salvage the exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage are engaging in a charade of sorts. As long as their party is in power, the government will never choose the exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage over the Charter. A Liberal government would more likely be defeated on the issue than sign on to a move that could rip it from the inside. But if not the Liberals, what about the other parties? Well, the Tories in their day were no keener to give their government the last word over judges by using the clause. When the Supreme Court ruled that the statute on abortion was unconstitutional in 1988, Brian Mulroney resisted intense internal pressures to shelter the existing law or indeed a revised version from the Charter. In Canada, only one government jurisdiction has used the clause in direct response to a Supreme Court ruling. After Quebec's unilingual sign law was found to contravene the Charter in the late '80s, the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa used the notwithstanding clause to shelter a modified version of the same legislation from future litigation. Based on the Quebec experience, the political costs of overriding fundamental rights, even in the name of an iconic cause, exceed the gains."
Chantal Hébert, The Toronto Star, Aug. 6, 2003

Alliance party members must be enjoying the summer as they watch the Liberal party implode over this issue. They've hardly had to hurl a homophobic slur as the Liberal party seems quite capable of doing it for them. Maybe Chretien hopes to leave a Liberal party as decimated as the Conservative party was when Brian Mulroney jumped ship.

We are only too happy to see a shakedown in the Liberal party. Many of their members (John Bryden among them) are unworthy of calling themselves liberal and are better suited for the ignoramuses collected under the banner of the Alliance party. A purge of the Liberal party would serve Canada well. The issue of gay marriage will drive the bigots masking as liberals into the open where we can get a better look at them.

Equality Scorecard - tracking the Parliamentary vote for equal marriageTo help us in that effort, Clayton Chrusch has developed a web-site to keep track of how MPs will vote on equal marriage, complete with email addresses for each M.P.

We're not fans of petitions, but we do believe in the power of individual emails, phone-calls and personal visits. We recommend you use Clayton's work to direct your energy where it can do some good, not only to gain further acceptance of same-sex marriage, but to cleanse this country of cobwebs and shine some light into the darker corners of our political process. If you won't do it, who will? Certainly not our leaders.


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