It’s the zombie that won’t die. The body that won’t stay buried. The dead horse that demands flogging.
Stephen Harper’s government has been keeping mum about their plans for when Parliament reconvenes on Mon, April 3, but rolling back equal marriage is one of them (increasing the age of consent is another; read more about that on page 22). In response, Egale Canada has resurrected the lobby group Canadians For Equal Marriage (CEM), which was dismantled last summer after Parliament passed same-sex marriage legislation.
New CEM cochair Glen Murray, former mayor of Winnipeg and unsuccessful Liberal candidate in the 2004 federal election, says the hard part will be getting people mobilized, getting them to write cheques.
“Many people are just fatigued by this debate,” says Murray. “People say, ‘I thought we just fought this in court,’ ‘Didn’t we win that?’ or ‘Don’t we have a minority government that can’t do anything?’ But this is always a close vote.”
This time it’s not necessary to get MPs to support same-sex marriage; convincing them a new debate is a waste of time and effort will achieve the same goal. (In an Environics poll immediately after the January election, 66 percent of Canadians said the government should not bring the issue of same-sex marriage back to Parliament, a higher number than those who support same-sex marriage itself. By contrast, only 44 percent told Environics that the government should not keep its promise to cut the GST.)
“It’s obviously more extreme to roll back the clock on equality than to prevent equality from moving forward,” says Laurie Arron, who is back on the team, this time as national coodinator. (Alex Munter played that role last time; this time around Munter’s busy running for mayor of Ottawa.)
Though he hasn’t said when, Harper has committed to introducing a motion asking MPs whether they would like to introduce legislation that would undo the same-sex marriage bill. It’s supposed to be a free vote, so Arron says that the wishes of the party leadership will matter less than the views of individual MPs.
CEM was launched in 2003 as a short-term one-issue coalition to get same-sex marriage legislation passed. During that campaign, there was criticism that CEM and Egale were sometimes indistinguishable, with Egale staff issuing press releases and many partner organizations contributing little more than endorsements. This time around, CEM is even more closely linked to Egale Canada; they will share offices, too.
Some queer activists have suggested that another debate over same-sex marriage will show the Conservative government as extremist, hurting them in the next election and preventing them from introducing even more oppressive legislation. Arron doesn’t want to play that game.
“You can get too cute by half and we don’t want to do that,” he says. “We want to win the vote. It’s too close [a vote] to achieve other objectives.”
Says Murray: “You have to give the government credit for quieting its more provocative members, people we’d consider bigots, but these people still get votes.”
Murray and Arron say same-sex marriage opponents are well-organized for this round. While it’s true that the Ottawa-based Institute Of Marriage And Family Canada — set up by far right group Focus On The Family — will be a new player, not everybody is so enthusiastic. Back in 2003 Daniel Cere, director of Montreal-based Institute For the Study Of Marriage, Law And Culture, presented a brief to the justice committee that was very critical of same-sex marriage. Now Cere says he’s moved on.
“I think there are other issues to deal with. The marriage question needs to become broader — declining marriage rates, divorce rates. I think that if we jump back into a heated discussion about gay marriage it won’t get us to where we need to go,” he says.