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Martin is afraid to champion same-sex marriage

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

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Written by Scott Piatkowski

It’s been only three months since the federal election, but Paul Martin appears to have forgotten that the only thing that stood between him and a seat in the opposition benches was that Canadians were scared to death of the Conservative Party’s extreme views on social issues. He certainly sounded like he understood that during the campaign, effectively using Reformatory positions on issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage as a wedge to enhance and solidify Liberal support. In the last week of the campaign, he even went so far as to say that his party and the NDP “share the same basic values”.

So, whatever became of those basic values? And, more importantly, why doesn’t Paul Martin care to defend the very values that got him elected? With the federal government’s Supreme Court reference of its same-sex marriage law getting underway this week, the Liberals should be proudly shouting from the rooftops about taking such a bold step in the advancement of human rights. Instead, they are simply ducking and running away from the issue (except, of course, Liberal MP Roger Gallaway, who is actually intervening at the Supreme Court in opposition to the recognition of same-sex marriages).

While waiting for the Supreme Court to confirm what every politician in Canada already knows – that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage rights to same sex couples – the federal government has sat back and watched as couples in Quebec, British Columbia, Manitoba, the Yukon and Nova Scotia have had to go to court to join Ontario couples in having their rights confirmed. It has not lifted a finger to encourage these provinces or the remaining holdouts (particularly Alberta) to follow the law of the land on marriage.

To make matters worse, Martin is now planning on delaying introduction of his government’s same-sex marriage legislation (the subject of the Supreme Court reference) until this fall. Based on the glacial speed at which Parliament operates, that means that it will likely be spring 2006 before the bill will become law (or later if Martin’s minority government ends before then). According to a cabinet memo leaked to The Toronto Star, the Liberals have calculated that the delay is necessary in order to paper over the fact that the Liberals have their own share of troglodytes in caucus. “As the issue of marriage between same-sex couples carries with it a certain polarization, it is likely that the media will continue to highlight every example of diverging opinions within the Liberal caucus and in cabinet over what approach to adopt,” says the secret document.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are asking that the Supreme Court reference be abandoned so that Parliament can vote on the issue as soon as possible. Ironically, the party that has unanimously opposed every gay rights initiative brought to a vote since 1993 is now in more of a hurry to deal with same-sex marriage issue than the allegedly more progressive Liberals. That’s because Stephen Harper knows that he can improve his party’s extreme image by having just a few of his caucus members vote in favour of same-sex marriage. If there are almost as many Conservatives voting for the legislation as there are Liberals voting against it, the only wedge that Paul Martin will have left going into the next election will be the one in his underwear.

It’s equally true that the Conservatives know that same-sex marriage is here to stay, so they’re better off getting the issue out of the way quickly. As Conservative Justice Critic Vic Toews acknowledged last June, “This vote (on same-sex marriage) will be meaningless in every sense of the word… Same sex marriages are constitutionally imbedded in Canada whether Parliament votes yes or no to the proposed legislation.”

Harper has also promised to be “a more severe judge” of the social conservatives within his party who refuse to keep their mouths shut. “Look, it is a fine line because the party does value the right of members of Parliament to represent their constituents, to have diverse views on some controversial public policy issues,” Harper said last month. “In a campaign, the whole issue is about what the party's running on. You expect members, if they're going to be on the team, to be on the team. Some of what happened last time can't be repeated, and it won't be repeated.”

With the Liberals backing off on their official support for same-sex marriage, NDP Leader Jack Layton stands to gain points for his consistent and principled advocacy on the issue. Calling it “appalling” that the legislation is being delayed, Layton commented that the Liberals have “clearly misled the Canadian public on the role they want to play on human rights. Contrary to their advertising, they intend to drag their feet on proposed human rights for lesbian and gay couples ... and delay taking action no matter what the court decides… They're putting off an issue that they see not as an issue of human rights, but an issue that's controversial and difficult for Liberals.”


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