3 min

Civil unions, here we come?

Martin pulls election screw-you

Credit: Joshua Meles

First I’ll confess I’m not a dispassionate observer of national politics. Still, I can’t believe anyone would vote for Prime Minister Paul Martin after what he’s done.

The zeal with which my own ballot will be marked was torqued after Martin expanded the reference to the Supreme Court Of Canada on whether we can marry; there are four questions now, including one about whether civil unions would be acceptable, which won’t be heard until at least the fall. In doing so, the prime minister has likely killed equality for lesbian and gay couples, ironically under the guise of fighting for them.

George Orwell would be thrilled at the calibre of doublespeak being practised after Martin’s arrival. The farce is underlined by Belinda Stronach, the putative Conservative leader, being more liberal than the Liberal leader on equality.

Accuse me of partisan bitchiness. Still, I’m proud to say that, as an observer at last November’s Liberal convention, I joined in the standing ovation to salute former prime minister Jean Chrétien’s marriage steps.

Chrétien did make a virtue out of a necessity. Court rulings in BC, Ontario and Quebec forced his hand, after all.

As such, the original reference to the court was unnecessary and unprecedented. Parliament did not, for example, ask the court whether it could ratify Kyoto despite Alberta vociferously arguing Ottawa had no jurisdiction to pursue the treaty.

Nor did Parliament ask the court’s opinion on the gun registry.

One wonders why equal marriage couldn’t be similarly dealt with in Parliament, especially since it doesn’t cost a billion dollars like the gun registry. But no.

Given his retirement clock was ticking at the time, Chrétien was clearly banking on the court quickly agreeing so the former PM could add one more item to the legacy list. But, the court dawdled in answering.

Shockingly, Parliament entered the vacuum as MPs and citizens engaged in what can only be described as a vigorous debate. Parliament even voted on it, defeating a Conservative/Alliance motion that would have excluded us from marriage.

So let’s recap. Three senior courts ruled. The country’s discussed. And Parliament voted. Enter Martin, who promises more debate, involving neither people nor Parliament, but the courts, where he tells us government lawyers will argue for equality.

If it’s such a good idea, why isn’t Martin arguing for it?

In response, Liberals say there are so many people wanting to speak in court it would be rude not to listen. And it’s here we should become angry, for it’s here we’re put on a path to a first in Canadian human rights history: The possibility of the majority losing rights to prevent the minority from accessing them.

If you are looking to get married soon, do it quickly because Martin is looking for what he calls an “option.”

Martin’s floated this “option” before. In fact, he stole it from Scott Brison, the gay Conservative MP who has since found Liberal membership more appealing.

The “option” is civil unions, or stripping civil marriage rights away from heterosexuals in order to prevent us from obtaining them. The court, thanks to Martin, will now be asked to rule whether Parliament has to raise our rights to an equal level, or whether knocking hets’ rights down to our unequal level is good enough.

If it says both will suffice, Parliament will get its “options” and conservatives will celebrate the emergence of an alleged compromise.

In light of this, it’s miraculous Liberals berate Conservatives for intolerance. With the exception of Conservative Larry Spencer’s recent outburst, the most verbose bigotry has been from Liberal lips: Roseanne Skoke, Tom Wappel, Dan McTeague and Pat O’Brien.

Desperate to placate this wing – if 53 MPs can be called a wing – of his own party, Martin tossed them his first social bone. We re-ceived the shaft.

It says something about Martin that he chose to first reach out to the half of Canadians who oppose equality, not the half who support it. What it will say about us is whether he gets away with it.

* Jamey Heath is the research and communications director for the NDP caucus.