2 min

Fourth grade question

Credit: Joshua Meles

Prime Minister Paul Martin is asking the Supreme Court Of Canada if granting civil unions, not marriage, to same-sex couples is okay under the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. That’s bad, right? Why would he ask if he wasn’t contemplating the civil union option?

Staff at the queer lobby group Egale Canada say they are confident that Martin is just buying time and will introduce full-fledged marriage legislation after an election (assuming the Liberals win), which will most likely take place this spring.

Though Egale initially protested against the government adding the fourth question, the group has decided not to go into high gear over it.

How are they so confident, particularly when Martin has yet to say he supports same-sex marriage?

“We have a sense that they remain committed to it,” says Egale executive director Gilles Marchildon. “We’re not satisfied with the timetable, but we’re not taking the gloves off.”

With the public behaviour of the Liberals so vague, could there have been private assurances?

“I wasn’t involved in any quid pro quo bargaining that way,” says Marchildon. “As far as I know, there wasn’t a quid pro quo.”

Laurie Arron, Egale’s director of advocacy who is on loan to the advocacy group Canadians For Equal Marriage (CEM) and who has been the main link between marriage advocates and the corridors of power, says he’s received no private assurances, either. But he says he’s been told by the justice minister’s office and lawyers that their intention is to proceed with a marriage bill post-election.

“They are clear on the bill; they have been unwavering,” says Arron.

Arron points out that the federal government, though it’s asking the Supreme Court if civil unions are constitutional, will have its lawyers arguing that they aren’t. The case was originally expected to go ahead in April, but the fourth question – and the large number of interveners involved – will likely push the court date until the fall.

What remains is a risky situation for marriage advocates: They are depending on an election win by a party that supports same-sex marriage, a positive ruling from the Supreme Court, then a government marriage bill and a successful free vote in the House Of Commons.

As election fever hits, they must be critical of MPs who don’t support same-sex marriage without alienating themselves from possible government members.

In public statements, the government has said its motive for the additional Supreme Court question is to educate the public about the issue, particularly that a positive Supreme Court ruling will help persuade reluctant MPs to support same-sex marriage. Marchildon has mixed feelings about this strategy.

“We’re all in favour of public education; awareness helps our cause,” says Marchildon. “But I hate to see the election become a referendum on human rights; elections can have a lot of anti-gay rhetoric.”