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2005-JAN-21 to JAN-31

Preparing to introduce SSM legislation in Parliament

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Earlier developments are described in another essay

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bullet"May you live in interesting times." Ancient Chinese curse.

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The federal Liberal party plans to introduce amendments to various federal laws, including the Marriage Act, to legalize same-sex marriage across the country. As the legislation is introduced in Parliament, 87% of Canadians live in a province or territory which has already made SSM available to same-sex couples as a result of court decisions. Another court challenge is expected in Alberta. If this authorizes SSM in that province then only 3% of the Canadian population will be without access to SSM in their province or territory. The proposed legislation will have little impact on most Canadians. It will merely make SSM more accessible to same-sex couples. Still, the Liberal party, the Conservative party and various conservative religious groups have escalated debate to a fever pitch.

Both sides justify their position on moral grounds:

bulletReligious liberals, social liberals and the federal Liberal Party regard marriage as a fundamental human right. All couples, both opposite-sex and same-sex, should have the right to marry.
bulletReligious conservatives, social conservatives and the federal Conservative Party have viewed SSM as:
bulletA danger to the institution of marriage (some say "destruction" of marriage),
bulletPotentially damaging to the culture of Canada, and
bulletHaving the capacity to limit the religious freedom of faith groups to discriminate against same-sex couples.

Some conservatives are willing to over-ride the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Canada's constitution, in order to preserve "traditional marriage" -- i.e. in order to prevent committed same-sex couples from marrying. Members of Parliament (MPs) are faced with a major ethical challenge:

bulletTheir oath of office commits them to support the Charter, and thus support the right of same-sex couples to marry.
bulletThey are probably aware that national public opinion surveys have consistently shown in the last few years that most Canadian adults favor SSM. Some view their duty as implementing the wishes of Canadians.
bulletThey are undoubtedly aware of the very strong opposition to SSM expressed by a highly motivated minority of Canadian adults. They might well retaliate against MPs who vote in favor of the government legislation by voting them out of office at the next election.

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bullet2001-JAN-21: Canada: Prime Minister stakes job on SSM legislation: Prime Minister Paul Martin said that if the use of the notwithstanding clause comes up for a vote in Parliament, that he would make the matter a matter of confidence. Referring to the leader of the right-wing Conservative Party, Martin said: "If Stephen Harper seeks to utilize the notwithstanding clause to override the rights of minorities, the rights established and enshrined in the Charter, I will make that a vote of confidence." That is, if the legislation passed, Martin would be forced to call a new election. The notwithstanding clause is a mechanism that we believe to be unique among democracies in the world. It allows a government to pass laws which violate specific human rights as "guaranteed" by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- Canada's constitution. In the present case, it would consider same-sex couples as a special class who would be excluded from marrying anywhere in the country for five years. The legislation could be renewed every five years indefinitely. The fate of the marriages of the thousands of same-sex couples who have married since the middle of 2003 is not clear. It might retroactively cancel their marriages, and strip benefits, responsibilities and protections for the couples and their children. 1
bullet2005-JAN-25: ON: Letters to the editor: After a year of relatively inactivity, some letters to the editor about SSM are being sent to Canadian newspapers. On this date The Toronto Star published five letters:
bulletEllen Jaffe of Hamilton ON approached the topic as a human rights issue. She wrote, in part: "...denying fundamental and equal rights to one group of people inevitably and invariably takes away the freedoms and rights of all 'minorities' and ultimately of all citizens -- none of us knows when we will need to have our rights protected and enforced. There  has to be a major shift in thinking, acknowledging that people have the same civil rights -- including marriage -- whether their sexual orientation/choice of partner is male or female. Further a society that denies equality to...[one minority] denies equality to all, because we become either the oppressors or the oppressed, not citizens with equal opportunities in a free nation."
bulletAndrew Stelmack of Toronto ON described his father's excommunication by the Roman Catholic Church in 1958 because he married outside his faith. He wrote: "Since then, common sense has prevailed and the church has changed such outdated thoughts. Well, it is time for Marc Cardinal Ouellet to take another look and change the outdated thoughts on same-sex marriage."
bulletMargaret Gagie of London ON noted that Cardinal Ouellet "suggests that sanctioning same-sex marriage will hurt and confuse children." She asks whether the Cardinal can guarantee that "...if we ban same-sex marriages, that no Catholic priest will ever again hurt or confuse a child...." She asks whether the Cardinal can guarantee that no children in opposite-sex marriages will be hurt or confused.
bulletDes Burge of Toronto commended Aloysius Cardinal Ambrozic for his letter to the Prime Minister on the need to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. He wrote: "For the welfare of our country and the good of society, I hope the Prime Minister will heed the cardinal's words of wisdom."
bulletPaul Kokoski of Hamilton ON is a member of the Catholic Civil Rights League which is one of the most vocal Christian groups working to deny the right of same-sex couples to marry. He felt that columnist Jim Coyle -- author of a January 22 column titled: "Bishop's sad tirade a reminder of a darker era" -- is bigoted towards Roman Catholics. Kokoski states that Coyle is wrong by attempting "...to justify same-sex marriage on the grounds that: At base, marriage is about commitment." He notes that criminals are sometimes committed, as are adults in polygamous relationships. He confirms Conservative Leader Stephen Harper's fears that changing marriage will lead to polygamy. He continues: "Legal recognition of same-sex unions would act to obscure basic moral values causing a devaluation of the institution of marriage....I commend the church in its attempt at derailing Paul Marti's initiative to elevate homosexuality to the level of a state sacrament through the adoption of same-sex marriages." 2
bullet2005-JAN-25: Canada: Law professors refute Stephen Harper's claim: Almost a gross of law professors from Canadian universities -- 134 to be exact; sorry for the pun -- published an open letter to Stephen Harper, accusing him of not being honest with Canadians over the same-sex marriage debate. Harper has repeatedly said that he will introduce an amendment to the government's legislation or introduce a private member's bill which would apparently create a Vermont-style civil union system in Canada.  Sujit Choudry from the University of Toronto said that Harper's position would necessitate overriding the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. He said: "We don't think they're being straight, to be perfectly honest. That's why we took the unprecedented step of circulating an open letter among law professors in Canada." Harper contradicts the conclusions of the legal experts. He has said that his position is legally sound: "We will promote the traditional definition of marriage without using the notwithstanding clause." To "promote the traditional definition of marriage" apparently does not have anything to do with actually promoting one-man/one-woman marriage -- that is convincing more opposite-sex couples to marry and remain married. It seems to mean that he wants to specifically exclude same-sex couples from marrying, and to forcibly divorce the thousands of same-sex couples who have already married. The former attorney general of Manitoba and current Conservative justice critic said that: "It's not the first time law professors have been wrong. I'm not surprised at their opinion. I disagree with their opinion and we'll see what happens." Toews has said that the Supreme Court of Canada has said that the Federal Government and not the provinces have the right to decide who is permitted to marry. He has said that once a federal law concerning marriage is passed, it will trump the lower court rulings. 6 By that line of reasoning, the federal government could go further and re-criminalize homosexual behavior without trumping "lower court rulings." Toews' point of view seems strange.
bullet2005-JAN-25: BC: Lesbian couple heard before human rights tribunal: Deborah Ann Chymyshyn and Tracey Smith of Coquitlam, BC, decided to get married in 2003. They booked a local Knights of Columbus hall for their reception. The Knights are an all-male Roman Catholic service group. The couple signed a contract, paid the deposit, and mailed out invitations to their wedding guests. The Knights of Columbus heard that theirs was a same-sex wedding, and refused to honor the contract. The couple lodged a complaint with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal, stating that they were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. Their case was heard on JAN-25. 3 [The lesbian couple won. The Knights of Columbus were required to pay $2,000 for the "humiliation" they suffered. The couple has appealed the decision, seeking additional compensation.] 13
bullet2005-JAN-24: Focus on the Family opposes SSM: Globe and Mail reporter Jill Mahoney wrote that James Dobson founder and head of the Colorado-based fundamentalist Christian group Focus on the Family condemned the move towards legalizing SSM in Canada on his daily radio program. Apparently addressing his Canadian office in Langley, BC, he said: "I ask for your supporters and listeners to let you know that they're standing with you, that they're praying for you and that they're going to contribute to make it possible for you to fight this battle. I know you've got a lot of support there and I just pray that it will be very evident as you get farther into this struggle."  Mahoney wrote: "Back on the airwaves, Dr. Dobson tells his followers that the struggle for traditional marriage "has turned ugly" in Canada and encourages them to offer money and prayers because God is 'in the business of answering prayers, especially those prayed in accordance with his will'."
bullet2005-JAN-26: Canada: Lots of heat but little light: The Liberal party held a caucus retreat in Fredericton, NB -- one of the few areas in Canada that does not allow SSM.
bulletPrime Minister Paul Martin referred to the legalization of SSM as a basic human right across the country. He said: "Fundamentally, the prime minister of the country is the prime minister of all Canadians, not just certain Canadians. You can't pick and choose the minority rights or the fundamental rights that you're going to defend."
bulletPaul Steckle, Liberal Member of Parliament for Huron-Bruce in Ontario opposes SSM legislation. He said that he favors the government opting out of the constitution by imbedding a notwithstanding clause in marriage legislation. He said: "I believe the notwithstanding clause could be used. Mr Harper [leader of the Conservative Party] is saying he's not sure." The use of this clause would override the equality guarantees of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms

In Victoria, Stephen Harper, head of the right-wing Conservative Party said that he can "promote traditional marriage" -- i.e. prohibit same-sex couples from marrying --  either by amending  the governments proposed legislation or by introducing a private member's bill. He said: "We're going to promote traditional marriage without the notwithstanding clause...We've sought and received legal advice. The legal advice supports my position." 1

Jack Layton, head of the New Democratic Party -- a socialist group -- wrote: "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  [to] the polls over, yet inconsequential enough to allow Liberal MPs to join Harper in trampling over its protections." He pointed out that the Liberal party has had a poor record on human rights in the past. "...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." 4

Columnist Chantal Hbert criticized the posturing of both Prime Minister Martin and Stephen Harper, leader of the right-wing Conservative party. She writes: "The Prime Minister could no more lead a snap election campaign on the issue than the Conservative leader could fulfill his promise to maintain the exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage without overriding the Charter rights of gay Canadians....It was less than a year ago that 65% of Canadians voted for federal parties that were openly committed to enshrining same-sex marriage into law. Since then, the Liberal plan to expand the definition of marriage has earned the blessing of the Supreme Court....If same-sex marriage does not pass the test of the House of Commons and the Senate between now and the next election, it will first and foremost be because Martin could not rally enough of his own Liberals to the plan. Given that, it is hard to see how going to voters to ask for more Liberals would improve matters. But even if it is not a given that the current Parliament will manager to put the issue behind it, same-sex marriage is in Canada to stay, regardless of Harper's empty promises to the contrary." 5

bullet2005-JAN-27: Charges of racism; estimates of result of same-sex vote: Prime Minister Paul Martin accused the Conservatives of "racial profiling." He said that Conservative leader Stephen Harper discriminated on the basis of race and nationality in the placement of a series of advertisements opposing same-sex marriage in newspapers throughout Canada which cater to new and immigrant Canadians. Immigration Minister Joe Volpe said that the ads show that Harper and his Conservatives still don't understand recent immigrants and their embrace of human rights. He said: "It demonstrates that they have a very poor understanding of the social-cultural dynamics of the country." He said that new Canadians are "mildly offended" by the ads which imply that they are different or separate from the mainstream Canadian population. Volpe continued: "That kind of patronizing, lack of understanding of how new Canadians have integrated in society will come forward."

The Toronto Star reported that the dissenters in the Liberal Party caucus -- those opposed to equal marriage rights for same-sex couples -- seem to realize that the government has sufficient votes to ensure passage of the SSM legislation. Reporter Susan Delacourt wrote: "Liberal MPs opposed to the bill are now saying quietly they expect that they will lose by about 20 to 30 votes, and gay and lesbian marriage will become legal within months at the outside." 8
bullet2005-JAN-28: Poll indicates federal bill will pass: Sun Media Newspapers polled all 307 members of Parliament. Of the 257 who replied: 135 were in favor, 102 opposed; 19 undecided. Sun predict an eventual 155 votes in favor of the bill. 10
bullet2005-JAN-29: Most Canadians feel election not justified over SSM: The Ipsos-Reid poll determined that 71% of Canadians believe that a federal election call over same-sex marriage cannot be justified. However, if voters were forced to choose a party on this one issue, the Liberals would lead with 41% of the vote, followed by the Conservatives at 29%, New Democratic Party with 13%, the Bloc Quebecois with 36% in Quebec) and the Greek Party at 4%. 11
bullet2005-JAN-31: Conservatives raise the threat of polygamy: Stephen Harper, head of the right-wing Conservative party addressed a breakfast meeting of top Conservative party organizers in the Greater Toronto Area. The Toronto Star reported that: "For some, Harper's pitch was offensive. They see his focus on gay marriage as an issue that plays to his social conservative base of support but does nothing to broaden the party's base to urban Conservatives. His recent musings linking same-sex marriage and polygamy were unfathomable to those skeptics." 7
bullet2005-JAN-31: Is the Conservative Party really pro-family? LifeSiteNews is a conservative Judeo-Christian groups whose main focus has been to reduce abortion access. They have now become active in opposing SSM. They question whether the Conservative Party is really be pro-opposite-sex marriage. At a press conference in Ottawa, Vic Toews, the Conservative justice critic, discussed the upcoming SSM debate in Parliament. Toews said: "The Conservative party will be proposing amendments to provide clear recognition of the traditional definition of marriage." They would also "provide full recognition of same-sex relationships as possessing equal rights and privileges."  LifeSiteNews editorialized that: "The Conservative leadership seems to have completely rejected warnings by some pro-marriage leaders that marriage would be further devastated and Canadians robbed of religious freedom and conscience rights whether homosexual couples are given marriage rights under the word 'marriage', 'civil unions' or any other terminology." A reporter asked Conservative Party critic Toews, "I hear you saying you want to extend all the rights, benefit[s], [and] obligations of marriage to same-sex couples, except the right to use the word marriage, is that correct?" Toews allegedly responded "Thats essentially the point." 12
bullet2005-FEB-01: Parliament is scheduled to resume. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has promised to introduce same-sex legislation as the first order of business. On JAN-31, CJOH-TV News said that the same-sex legislation is scheduled to be introduced in the morning of FEB-01. Many news conferences are scheduled for the rest of the day. The same-sex marriage bill will be referred to as civil marriage bill, in an apparent attempt by the federal government to differentiate same-sex marriage from opposite-sex marriage.

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Later developments

Possible paths forward to legalize same-sex marriage

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References used:

  1. Susan Delacourt, "PM stakes job on defending Charter. Can't be selective in fights for rights. But Liberal MP backs opting out," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-26, Page A6.
  2. Letters to the editor, The Toronto Star, Toronto ON, 2005-JAN-25, Page A19.
  3. "Same-sex wedding cancelled, panel told," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-26, Page A6.
  4. Jack Layton, "Playing politics with rights," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-26, Page A21.
  5. Chantal Hbert, "Same-sex marriage is here to stay," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-26, Page A21.
  6. "Lawyers challenge Harper's same-sex position," Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2005-JAN-25, at: http://www.mytelus.com/
  7. Tonda MacCharles, "Conservative policy a growing concern," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-31, Page A6.
  8. Susan Delacourt, "Tories accused of 'racial profiling'," The Toronto Star, 2005-JAN-27, Page A6.
  9. Jill Mahoney, "Organizing God's army against equal rites," The Globe and Mail, 2005-JAN-29, Page A9.
  10. Kathleen Harris, "Same-sex bill likely to pass. The legislation will squeak through, a poll of MPs shows," The London Free Press News, 20045-JAN-28, at: http://www.canoe.ca/
  11. "Majority (71%) of Canadians believe election call on same-sex issue not justified," Ipoos News Center, 2005-JAN-29, at: http://www.ipsos-na.com/
  12. "The Conservative Party Position Pro-Marriage or Not?," LifeSite, 2005-FEB-01, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  13. The ruling of the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal is at: http://www.bchrt.bc.ca/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 

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Copyright 2004 & 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-FEB-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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