1 min

Marriage dodge

Federal committee studies gay marriage

Federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is playing dodge ball with same-sex marriage.

Having decided to appeal an Ontario Superior Court decision that banning gay marriage is unconstitutional, he announced earlier this month that he’d refer the question to Parliament’s justice committee to allow for public consultation and debate.

It shut up the media, but it turns out it’s not such a done deal.

Sarah Miller, communications assistant to Andy Scott, the justice committee chair, says that there is no confirmation that the issue will even go to committee.

“We expect that it probably will, but the justice minister is still considering and hasn’t given us a definite yes or no. They couldn’t even tell us when they would decide.”

At the House Of Commons, things are even fuzzier.

“What we have is the minister saying publicly that he wants the committee to look at something but there has been no formal communication of that,” says duty clerk Patrice Martin. “Nothing has been done procedurally. There is an expression of a desire but nothing concrete.”

Martin explains that only the House Of Commons can formally ask a committee to take action.

It isn’t even clear when the house will resume. Miller says Wed, Sep 18, but the federal government website states Mon, Sep 16.

If the issue eventually goes to the justice committee, Miller says same-sex marriage will likely get priority treatment.

Committee members and the clerk get to decide who is allowed to speak on the issue.

“All requests are examined and then the committee will decide based on how long they want to spend hearing deputations. They try to get a fair representation,” says Miller.

John Fisher, executive director of the national queer lobby group Egale Canada, doesn’t see a need for consultation.

“We know where the various parties stand and have heard the debates already,” Fisher says.

Fisher recognizes that the legal challenges (there are cases in BC and Quebec, as well as the 10 couples in the Ontario courts) are likely to proceed to the Supreme Court Of Canada. He says the consultation process might help educate Canadians about gay and lesbian marriage.

But it might also give homophobes a stage for their viewpoints.

He says that rightwing groups will likely “come forward to tell the government why same-sex couples shouldn’t be treated equally. Human rights should not be subject to a popularity contest.”