Toronto
3 min

Marital disputes

The Liberals buy time on same-sex marriage

WE WANT IT NOW. Rev Brent Hawkes, who performed two same-sex marriages last year which have not been recognized by the government, speaks out in support of wedded bliss. Credit: Xtra files

The race is on: Will same sex marriage reach the Supreme Court Of Canada before a safe majority of Canadians approve of gay nuptials?



Which comes first will likely determine whether Canada will have legal gay marriage within the next two to five years, or whether we’ll be stuck with some sort separate-but-equal registered domestic partnership system for another 20 or more years.



“Politicians are not daring on our issue and they won’t be,” says Bob Gallagher. He’s the media rep for the 10 couples who won an Ontario Superior Court Of Justice (Divisional Court) case against the ban on same-sex marriage, only to have the federal Liberals appeal the ruling last week. “In the next two and a half to five years, we have to increase public support of same-sex marriage by at least 10 percent… or we could have to wait a generation for it.”



Here’s the logic. If the Supreme Court stand-off comes too soon, public opinion might still be too soft and the Liberals, if they’re told to change the law by the Supreme Court, might wimp out and offer a registered domestic partnership deal similar to what the Quebec government instituted provincially this month, bestowing all the rights and responsibilities of marriage, without using the word.



If the court battle takes too long though, the costs are more personal. Michael Leshner, a crown attorney who is half of one of the challenging couples, says he might not get to dance with his mother at his wedding to Michael Stark.



“She’s 89. She broke her hip and she’s had a small stroke,” Lesher says.



Lesher says the government shouldn’t be waiting for the public opinion to warm to gay marriage because it’s a human rights issue – the government knows the marriage ban is unconstitutional. Some sort of registered domestic partnership deal just won’t cut it.



“Registered domestic partnership is completely unacceptable to the litigants,” Leshner says. “You still have a door marked gay and a door marked straight.”



He’s optimistic, though. He says the support of Ontario Premier Ernie Eves and a unanimous resolution in support of gay marriage by Toronto City Council last week show growing support.



“If it’s such a controversial issue, why are the provincial Tories and the city running in the opposite direction? Politicians have turned around and done the right thing. [Mayor Mel] Lastman six years ago ran away from the gay rights issue.”



Gallagher advocates a media campaign that would boost public support for gay marriage. Though there have been no discussions yet, he thinks that US gay lobby groups might be enticed into donating to the cause.



“If we had gay marriage in Canada, they would have a hell of a time keeping it from bleeding over to the US,” says Gallagher. “If we had $1-million US, we could saturate the media in Canada and move our support from 55 percent to 65 percent within a year.”



All this theorizing is based on the notion that the federal Liberals are running scared. Their Jul 29 press release, which was issued without comment from Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, was cryptic. “In today’s society, the existence of a committed relationship is of great importance to our lives, whether for opposite-sex couples or same-sex couples…. The government believes it is the responsible course to seek further clarity on these issues.”



After several days of silence, a few senior Liberals have begun speaking up in support of same-sex marriage.



Over the weekend, Industry Minister Allan Rock and Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham declared their support of same-sex marriage while participating in Vancouver’s Pride parade.



“I’m an advocate of it. I always have been and will continue to be so,” Graham was quoted as saying. He represents the Toronto Centre-Rosedale riding that’s home to many homos.



Backbencher Carolyn Bennett, MP for Toronto’s St Paul’s riding, is more candid about the split in the caucus and government’s stalling tactics.



“It’s the only way they get to make up their minds over what they want to do,” says Bennett.



She says government should take the initiative and legalize gay marriage, but admits that many of her Liberal colleagues don’t feel the same way.



“It’s not an issue we haven’t argued before. The lines in the caucus are drawn. It’s hard to change people’s opinion.”



With files from Emily Sharpe