3 min

Harper’s change of heart

A glimmer of hope on the Hill?

“I don’t see reopening this question in the future,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper told reporters as he declared the same-sex marriage debate officially closed, Dec 7.

It was an anticlimactic conclusion to a half-hearted debate.

Harper then went so far as to say he has no intention of introducing the defence of religion act that he and his cabinet colleagues were rumoured to have been concocting.

The act would allegedly have allowed religious groups to refuse services such as space rentals to queers, homophobes to hide behind religious arguments to avoid charges of hate propaganda, and government clerks to refuse marriage licences to same-sex couples. All but the last “religious freedom” are already protected by law.

“If there ever were a time in the future where fundamental freedoms were threatened, of course the government would respond to protect them,” Harper noted, leaving the door open.

But, he quickly added, “The government has no plans at this time.” So is it time to breathe a sigh of relief? I don’t know.

Laurie Arron seems to think so. “This issue is settled,” the national coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage euphorically told reporters after the vote. “Even Mr Harper admitted that.”

True, Harper clearly wants Canadians to think he’s moved on and left the gay marriage question behind him, so he can present himself and his party as more moderate in time for the next election.

And true, his evangelical supporters clearly feel betrayed by his sudden abandonment.

“I am afraid that the Conservative Party feels that they can take social conservatives for granted in this country,” Joseph Ben Ami, from the Institute for Canadian Values, told the Globe and Mail, Dec 8.

“Mr Harper and the Conservatives are going to have to explain, I think, what people in our constituency are going to perceive as a certain lack of leadership surrounding this question in the last few days,” Ben Ami added, in a thinly veiled threat to pull his followers? political support for the party.

But I don’t think Ben Ami should scratch Harper off his Christmas list just yet. While many observers seem content to accept Harper’s statements as proof positive that the “marriage file is closed for good” (as the Globe’s headline trumpeted Dec 8), I’m not convinced.

Harper could still decide he can’t live without his evangelicals’ voting power and fling himself at their feet to beg forgiveness — and god knows what legislation he’ll introduce then.

Just because he has no immediate plans to court them now, doesn’t mean his promise to protect their potentially threatened “fundamental freedoms” in the future was merely empty appeasement.

The political landscape on Parliament Hill may have shifted slightly to the left last week, but that’s only as good as the next poll’s findings.

That didn’t stop Globe columnist John Ibbitson from urging his fellow evangelicals to do a little hard soul searching after the vote.

“Isn’t it about time we admit we’ve failed? That, both here and in the United States, our efforts to influence the political agenda have achieved virtually nothing? That we’ve wasted enormous amounts of money and time electing politicians who have betrayed us?” Ibbitson wrote Dec 8, urging his soul mates to get out of politics altogether.

“The evangelical church has lost its way,” Ibbitson continued. “Too many of its leaders have surrendered to the false allure of political influence. They have struggled, and failed, to impose a Bible-based agenda on Congress and Parliament.”

While I’d like to believe Ibbitson’s readers will take his advice and go spread some peace and love for a change, I’m not holding my breath. I doubt the evangelical wingnuts will simply pack up their bags and go home, meekly admitting defeat and abandoning their quest to infiltrate the halls of power with their agenda of intolerance and fear.

And why should they? Their values already permeate most of our laws, especially the ones pertaining to sex.

Sure, there may be a glimmer of hope on the Hill. Or it could just be the reflection off the star in Harper’s manger scene, somewhat toned down for the moment, but ready to blaze again brightly if the political winds shift.