Same-sex marriage has had a big impact on Alberta’s sugar beet quota system.
“We dealt with that a year ago,” says Bruce Webster, general manager of the Taber-based Alberta Sugar Beet Growers Association. Apparently same-sex couples had a strategic advantage in obtaining quota – as two individuals they could get more quota than a married couple. The Alberta government changed the legislation to recognize them as a way of levelling the playing field.
Homosexual sugar beet farmers in Alberta? With a competitive advantage? The things you learn you when you leave the downtown gay ghettos and start asking “average” Canadians about where homos fit into the country’s cultural mosaic.
With total disregard for scientific method, Xtra called random workplaces across the country to get a sense of where people’s heads are at when it comes to same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian rights. (The opinions expressed here are those of the individuals, not the organizations.)
The numbers are pretty easy. An SES Research study released in early September found that 47 percent of respondents support same-sex marriage, 44 percent oppose it and nine percent are unsure. With a margin of error of 3.1 percent, this survey of 1,000 Canadians tells part of the story, but not all. Polls don’t show the complexity of feelings Canadians have about us. Not everyone who opposes same-sex marriage can be filed under “bigot.”
Webster, 41 and married, doesn’t approve of changing the definition of the word marriage. But his position is closer to leftwing gay activists than, say, the Pope.
“There are a lot of other arrangements out there that could be recognized,” says Webster. “I’m a Protestant myself, but I know Mormons who would like their polygamous relationships recognized. Muslims are entitled to four wives. There are many other cultural groups out there, but it seems to be the case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease.”
Admittedly, there are those who are less thoughtful.
“Same-sex marriage is pretty stupid. It’s not worth getting into,” says the person who answered the phone at an Aboriginal media group in Alberta before hanging up.
More common among those who chose not to hang up is an off-the-cuff response.
“I think they should just change the word because marriage is between a man and a woman,” says Yoland Labbé, who works with a French-speakers’ group in Alberta.
For some, religion is a factor. Connie Henderson, 43, owns Yellowknife’s Arden Avenue Bed And Breakfast with her husband Ian. “I don’t agree with same-sex marriage and I don’t feel it should be legalized. I don’t feel that’s how God intended us to be.”
Other opinions don’t fall into the boxes you might expect.
At the Saskatchewan Institute Of Agrologists, Glen Hass, 65, works with his wife of 40 years. Though they’ve seen same-sex marriage in the news, they don’t discuss it. “It’s really a non-issue. I don’t know how I’d lean if I had to think about it. I’m not in favour [of same-sex marriage]. It’s not something I’d feel good about.”
Hass’s problem isn’t with queers but with the role of the government. “It should be a matter of societal norms, not government because that puts people on sides. If a church wants to marry [same-sex couples], why not? But I don’t think government should have a part in it. It creates a we-they thing.”
Brian Burgess, 57 and married with children, runs Pine Island Lodge in Northern Manitoba. “I’m conservative. I think it’s bad that it’s dividing the nation. I’m against [same-sex marriage] but I wouldn’t fly to Winnipeg to protest about it.
“A lot of churches preach against homosexuality. That’s, well…. I know gay people and that’s their persuasion.”
Though Burgess says he has no problem with gay life itself, he does have a problem with children being exposed to it.
“I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for openly gay people to be teaching our kids. I think it’s dangerous for them to be instilling their values on the young,” says Burgess.
Ron Elliott, 33 and chairperson for Nunavut Youth Consulting in Arctic Bay, is more sympathetic. “People are here for a very short time and the way they live their life is up to them as long as they aren’t hurting other people. Everyone is entitled to live their life the way they want and we’re not going to judge people just because they are gay, lesbian or bisexual.”
The marriage debate has at least put queer issues on people’s minds. Elliott says there’s a lot of talk in the North about whether or not gay and lesbian Inuit actually exist. His group has also done work on AIDS awareness and had 290 people out at their recent AIDS walk – out of a population of 700.
Art Gerrard, 60 and owner of Art’s Auto Body in Summerside, PEI, says he is totally against same-sex marriage. “I don’t really think there should be a marriage between two men or two women. It has nothing to do with religion. It’s a reality thing, I suppose you could call it.”
Another Island auto-body repair shop owner, Al Lewis, 45, of Covehead, says he has nothing against same-sex marriage – and nothing for it. “As long as people are happy, others should keep their nose out of it. I don’t see any problems with it.
“I’ve got around with them. I’ve got friends. It doesn’t bother me personally or whatever,” he says. “If someone is gay and they ask me politely I’ll just say I’m not interested, thank you very much. If they get all drunk and start pawing and stuff, that’s different.”
Halfway across the country, Evelyn Kam, 45, is the office manager of the Calgary Chinese Community Service Association.
“I don’t agree with it. I don’t like it for the moral reasons, for the sex,” says Kim, who says her moral reasons are personal, not religion-based.
Our youngest respondent, 19-year-old Warren Bautista from Commodore Lanes And Billiards in Vancouver, was indicative of polls showing that most young Canadians support same-sex marriage.
“It’s a free world and everyone has their own opinion but I think it’s totally fine,” Bautista says. “If it’s legal for a man and woman, it should be legal for gays or bisexuals. The government should make it equal and fair to everyone.”