Thousands, perhaps as many as 8,000, came by bus to the nation’s capital Apr 9, heeding a call from their religious leaders to demonstrate against same-sex marriage. They were the front-line troops in a nationwide call to take their beliefs in the “traditional” family to Canada’s politicians and, through TV, to the living rooms of the nation.
They were at war, and according to the abundant advance publicity given this well-funded protest months in the planning, it was reasonable to expect the religious equivalent of a Normandy invasion. Twenty-thousand or more Canadians from all ethnic backgrounds, all religious minorities, would join the Christian majority and beat back Paul Martin’s bill, the religious rightwing promised.
They came up short.
There were not 20,000 participants, though the turnout was certainly high. There were visible minorities, too, and Sikhs and Muslims and even a few First Nations protestors. But the huge majority of protestors were white. A large majority were Christians. And most protestors were Roman Catholic and carried signs supplied by the flamboyantly dressed Knights of Columbus who led the march. Visible minorities were almost invisible in the first half of the parade, and most of them were Chinese Christians. Sikhs and Muslims and others minorities became more discernable as the tail end of the line approached.
A lone man stood on a nearby corner as the parade passed, holding a sign: “Love is more fun than bigotry.” Liam Giffin, a straight 22-year-old, explained, “I looked out my window today and saw a bunch of people saying, ‘Marriage equals one man and one woman.’ I have friends who want to get married someday. I want them to be able to like I can I’m a practicing Roman Catholic. It’s people using the church as a crutch to lean their own bigotries against. It’s just distrust and fear of gay people.”
As for the media coverage: it focussed on Stephen Harper’s address supporting the march. More accurately, it focussed on Harper’s comments about the Gomery inquiry: that Liberal corruption is not a Canadian value, while marriage is. Most TV watchers will probably remember the demonstration not so much for the thousands who turned out to protest same-sex marriage, but rather for the image of Harper running away from reporters pressing him on whether he will soon force the nation back to the polls.
Of course, that’s not necessarily good news. Many strategic minded gays would probably like to see average Canadians make a connection between the outdated moral oratory of that day and the policies of the Reform/Alliance/Conservative Party.
The crowd was disciplined. Blatantly homophobic rhetoric was all but absent. And most signs were mass-produced. A brief chant, “No same sex” rose from one small corner of the mass on Parliament Hill.
“I’m not a racist,” one blue-washed woman told another. “I’ve got them in my own family. They can do what they like as far as I’m concerned. But not call it marriage.”
Conservative Party leader Stephen Harper spoke as if large multicultural crowds had turned out after all.
“Liberals may talk about minority rights. But undermining the traditional definition of marriage is an assault on the values of minority communities in Canada, an assault on the multicultural nature of this country.
“Your community, your faith could be next.
“But the good news is we can win this fight. God bless Canada.”
Chris Khng, age 29, was unimpressed. Khng, who grew up a Catholic in Singapore before moving to Vancouver as a teenager in 1989, was one of about a dozen visible minority queers at a counter-protest. He’s angry at the way Harper and others opposed to same-sex marriage have framed it as an issue of concern to minority communities.
“They suggest visible minority communities are intolerant, which is not true. But Harper is not for minority rights.”
The gay community needs to do “a lot more for networking and partnerships” with minority communities, says Khng. He thinks that’s not happening much now because the gay community “is fearful of the response.” But socially conservative groups are not afraid and are building links, he says.
Gays should strengthen links to minority groups that have spoken up in favour of same-sex marriage, he says, noting the Canadian Muslim Congress, the World Sikh Organization and the Chinese-Canadian National Council.
Preached one anti-gay speaker from the stage: “Love does not say yes if truth says no.” The denial of “physiological truths” inherent in same-sex coupling leads ultimately to democracy becoming a shell, he said to applause. “Rise up for a natural definition of marriage,” he railed. Save Canada and democracy. Be “united from this pulpit” or “all go down together.”
Other speakers also hinted that same-sex marriage would bring the wrath of God down on democracy and Canada.
“Our government wasn’t sodomy to be accepted as part of the norm,” railed Monsigneur Gervais. “And we refuse that.”
Same-sex marriage will change the family, society and the care of children “in ways we can hardly imagine. We won’t be able to tell our children that homosexual practices are unacceptable. Homosexual practices are different than heterosexual. Children need a mother and a father.”
Daryl Banke isn’t buying it. “Proud to be a gay married Christian,” reads his sign.
“Everyone has a right to their own opinions,” says the 47-year-old Ottawa resident. “I had a real falling out with my church when I came out in ’82. I found another church.”
The Parliament Hill protestors “take a very narrow view,” said Banke. “They need to broaden their horizons. Jesus said to love everyone. I do. I wish they’d do that in their life also.”
Banke was one of about 100 queer counter-demonstrators off to one side of the front law of Parliament. Gays held hands with lesbians, same-sex married couples put their arms around queer punks. Gay hippies in their tie-dyed rainbow garments kept beat on a drum. Joined by Raging Grannies and Unitarians, they sang Christian hymns and gospel songs.
“We shall overcome,” they sang as speakers railed against the threat of homosexuals getting married. “We shall live in peace one day,” they sang as a nearby group of Muslims opposing same-sex marriage kept glancing over to watch.
“This is their day,” said Laurie Arron of Canadians for Equal Marriage as the gay counter-demonstration dispersed after an hour. “We’re not here to usurp them.” Arron is not overwhelmed by Harper’s claim that same-sex marriage violates the rights of Canada’s multicultural communities. “I think there’s people who support equal marriage and oppose equal marriage in every group of society.
“What today shows is Canadians have different beliefs, different values, and what’s important is we respect everyone’s views and include everyone in the institutions of Canadian society – like same-sex marriage.”