Conservatives and Canada: Gay Marriage Redux


in Canada, Law, Politics

Prime-minister-designate Stephen Harper has pledged to introduce a resolution asking MPs whether they want to reopen the controversial [same sex marraige] debate, and promised it would be a free vote in which MPs can choose a side according to their conscience rather than their party.

-The Globe and Mail

Parliament does not have the power to legislate minority rights on a case-by-case basis, as though laws pertaining to them are the same as any other kind of legislation. Minority rights are subject neither to the whims of public opinion nor the maneuvering of politicians: that’s the whole point of the Charter and a central tenet of tolerant liberal democracy. One of the most intelligent things Paul Martin did as Prime Minister was to stress this. MPs who say they will “vote according to the wishes of their constituents” should be ashamed of themselves for either misunderstanding or publicly misrepresenting the nature of minority rights.

The importance of a government choosing to overturn such a law extends beyond the same-sex marriage debate itself. It speaks to the possibility of a socially activist government of a kind that is neither well suited to Canada nor justified by the results of the election. In that way, I am especially glad for people who elected NDP members of Parliament, who I expect will be particularly effective at countering the Conservatives when they step too far.

I think that the complete failure of the Conservatives to win seats in Canada’s three biggest cities: Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver demonstrates the limitations of their perspectives on government. The same irony comes up in the United States, where you see people in places least likely to be directly affected by terrorism most concerned about it and those least exposed to matters like immigration or same-sex marriage most threatened by it. ‘Traditional values’ do not deserve an equal hearing when they are fundamentally oppressive, and tolerance for alternative viewpoints does not need to extend to the point where they can be allowed to form national policy.

I don’t think Stephen Harper will be stupid enough to shift policy too far to the right on social issues. Of particular importance is the fact that he must be hoping that if he can convince enough Canadians that he is a moderate and acceptable leader, he will be returned with a majority at some point in the future. The way to do that may be to placate your socially conservative supporters with a few token gestures, while actually working to stay close to the political centre.

That said, governmental change is unpredictable. We shall have to see what transpires.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

tristan Laing February 1, 2006 at 3:36 pm

Now, if the Liberals, NDP, and BLOC all believe this to be a closed issue, couldn’t they simply reject the notion that it was a “free vote” and force their MPs to vote along party lines? They could call it “voting with/for the constitution”, and they could threaten party expulsion if they don’t. Is this not allowed?

Milan February 1, 2006 at 3:53 pm

I don’t think there is any prohibition on the NDP, Bloc, and Liberals behaving as you describe, save that it might be politically damaging for them.

One of the liabilities that would come up from such an approach is the charge of being anti-democratic. While it’s obviously not valid, in this case, it’s something the party leaders must be aware of.

B February 1, 2006 at 9:53 pm

No wonder we can never manage to make social progress. Whenever we manage it, reactionary bigots step in to try and roll it back.

Sylvia February 1, 2006 at 10:42 pm

Parliament does not have the power to legislate minority rights on a case-by-case basis

Unfortunately it does, and it’s called the notwithstanding clause, hence Martin’s rather late challenge to his opponents that they strike it from the Charter. Perhaps it was originally intended to permit affirmative action, but the potential is obviously there to use it for the opposite purpose.

I suppose the only comfort we can take is that all Harper (says he) wants to change is the terminology and not the rights ascribed to same-sex couples. We shall see, and we shall see if the courts uphold such an absurdity.

. October 15, 2009 at 10:59 am

If God Had Wanted Me To Be Accepting Of Gays, He Would Have Given Me The Warmth And Compassion To Do So

By Jane Kendricks
October 13, 2009 | Issue 45•42

I don’t question God. The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall put none above Him. Which is why I know that if it were part of God’s plan for me to stop viciously condemning others based solely on their sexual preference, He would have seen fit—in His infinite wisdom and all—to have given me the tiniest bit of human empathy necessary to do so.

It’s a simple matter of logic, really. God made me who I am, and who I am is a cold, anti-gay zealot. Thus, I abhor gay people because God made me that way. Why is that so hard to understand?

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