Politics and religion have always been a toxic combination for gays and lesbians in Canada.
Attacking sexual minorities is seen as a sure vote-getter in many ridings in the country and denunciations of the homosexual lifestyle are a sure audience-rouser in many of the nation’s churches.
But when the Reform Party began to rise in the west and evangelical Christianity began to move from the pulpit to the House of Commons, homophobia became more than just attention-grabbing rhetoric. It became official political policy and gays and lesbians started to become worried.
As Reform morphed into the Canadian Alliance and then took over the Conservative Party, the combination of rightwing religion and rightwing politics began to gain support across the country. When same-sex marriage became a major issue, the party’s leader Stephen Harper decided to use it as the centrepiece of his campaign.
Harper took his message into churches, mosques and synagogues across the country, arguing that families and religion were under attack and that his party was the only one that could defend freedom of religion from sodomy-loving pinkos.
Harper ended up in opposition in that election but he did succeed in firmly establishing religion and homosexuality on the national political agenda. When in the next election, Harper became Canada’s prime minister with a minority government, gays and lesbians began to prepare for battle. However, as time passed and Harper made no move to outlaw homosexuality, there was some relaxation in the gay and lesbian community.
It seems sexual minorities have not been anywhere near worried enough.
Marci McDonald’s investigative feature, originally published in the October, 2006 edition of The Walrus magazine, makes it clear that the links between Harper’s government and the religious right are much more extensive and much more solid than even the most paranoid gay people imagined. McDonald’s piece also makes it clear that if Harper should gain a majority in this election the cost to sexual minorities could be much greater than feared.
McDonald’s extensively researched work shows that the party and Harper himself, for all attempts to create a more urbane, telegenic veneer, are deeply based in evangelical Christianity. She estimates that there are at least 70 evangelicals in Harper’s caucus and she points to Harper’s own secretive membership in an Ottawa fundamentalist church.
McDonald shows how Harper’s evangelical allies have quietly set up powerful, well-connected lobbying organizations, staffed by those with extensive ties to Harper and his party. McDonald also demonstrates how the issue of same-sex marriage has allowed Harper to build an alliance not only of rightwing Christians, but also of prominent rightwing Jewish figures.
The article shows how this alliance — built on the explosive combination of the Apocalypse and same-sex marriage — has dictated even Harper’s most innocuous-seeming policies.
McDonald outlines how Harper used evangelicals to try to sell his daycare plan to Canada and more disturbingly how Harper’s successful attempt to raise the age of consent to 16 from 14 — a bill which received the full approval of all three opposition parties — was a test case for how much Harper could give to his evangelical base.
That raise in age of consent was supported despite the fact that it did nothing to lower the age of consent for anal sex, which is currently 18, an omission which played directly to the Christian right.
As Peter Bochove of the antisex-law Committee to Abolish the 19th Century told Xtra last year, “This bill will strip 14- to 16-year-olds of their basic human rights and it’s all based on this antiquated 2,000-year-old book. All the antiquated sex laws are based on outdated ideas. It’s all rooted very deeply in religion.”
Harper’s near-success in passing Bill C-10 — which would have given the heritage minister the power to deny tax credits to any film she deemed “offensive” or “contrary to public policy” — also catered largely to the religious right.
In fact, Charles McVety — who McDonald reveals to be one of Harper’s closest religious allies — originally claimed credit for the bill, citing the need to act against films that “proselytize children to be homosexuals.”
It’s his ability to couch his religiously motivated legislation in terms of the public good and to suck the opposition into supporting him that has allowed Harper to seem less worrying to many. McDonald destroys that illusion, showing that Harper’s religious supporters are just biding their time.
Even many of those in the gay community have suggested that Harper’s only concern is staying in power and to maintain that power he won’t push an antihomosexual agenda too hard. McDonald shows that Harper’s many religious allies, supporters and MPs are just waiting for a majority government to allow them the opportunity to roll back the gains that gays, lesbians and other minorities have made over the years. To them — the people who know Stephen Harper so well — a Conservative majority means the end of same-sex marriage.
That’s why it’s so important for gay and lesbian voters to read McDonald’s piece and to understand exactly how widespread, powerful and cohesive the religious and political alliance is.
Reading this article will make it clear how important it is to vote against Harper and to end his reign.
A majority Conservative government will be determined to drive sexual minorities back underground, stripped of equality and protection.
Help make sure that doesn’t happen.