Sometimes your progress is measured by the seemingly smallest of things. Like words. And tone. That’s how it is in the latest round in the debate over marriage equality, a debate that has taken Parliamentary time since the Liberals defined marriage as between a man and a woman in 1999.
Hansard, the record of parliamentary debate, has more than its share of vicious and nasty language about gay and lesbian sexuality dating back generations. The Reform Party era was particularly vile.
Gay sex was compared to sex with animals and children on more than one occasion.
Even as late as the 2005 round of debate, Conservative politicians were making strange connections.
Myron Thompson, the Stetson-wearing member for Wild Rose, Alberta, rose on the last day of debate on Bill C-38 to talk about child pornography.
The tone has changed. We’re no longer being called dog-fuckers.
Sure, there were the usual misunderstandings about who we were and the sound of politicians choking on the words gay and lesbian. But Wednesday’s debate had its own low points, including one Conservative backbencher’s recitation of a prayer. And then there’s the use of code words that said more than they appeared to and were aimed directly to those with a Christian Right world view.
Kitchener area MP Harold Albrecht spoke of the power of “special lobby groups” to influence Parliament. In passing Bill C-38 in June 2005, asked Albrecht, “did we ignore the needs of the most vulnerable among us: children? Unless we re-open the debate, we’ll never know… Let’s remember the children.”
He raised concern for the “psychological development” of children raised in same-sex marriages.
He wasn’t alone. Ottawa valley Conservative Pierre Lemieux claimed “the children of same-sex couples are deprived of the right to have both a mother and father.” That was a right guaranteed in international treaties, insisted Lemieux and other debaters.
He hinted at something sinister. “Our children are our future and they must be protected.”
And Conservative Bev Shipley from southwestern Ontario said, “Lifestyle preferences should not ever take preference over the rights of our children.”
Lemieux noted his Roman Catholic faith and his belief that “God himself is the author of marriage.” MPs should keep in mind that “God knows each of us intimately.
Remember, he warned, you will have to “give a good account of yourself when you stand before Him.” And then he recited a prayer.
Dean Del Mastro, a Peterborough Conservative said, “Faith influences how this Parliament makes law.” The Constitution’s preamble references God.
In supporting same-sex marriage, the NDP is betraying its own religious origins, he suggested.
“The founder, Tommy Douglas, a Baptist minister, must be turning in his grave. His beliefs would not allow him to sit in this party today.”
Albrecht, a fundamentalist preacher, was kept from the media by Harper’s handlers in the last election. Same-sex marriage makes Canada weaker, he suggested.
“The young people of Canada know this: strong communities are built on strong families and a strong Canada is built on strong families,” he told the House.
Liberal Andrew Telgedi, whose riding abuts that of Albrecht, noted that most of the letters opposing same-sex marriage that he gets are “organized by fundamentalist churches.”
His comment spurred an NDP MP to ask: “Is it religious fundamentalists that are trying to direct the work of this government?”
Added Telegdi, “The majority of Canadians support the legislation and are proud of this legislation. We did not end this segregation soon enough. We did not end this discrimination soon enough.”
Abbotsford Conservative Ed Fast said his constituents are tolerant people. But, he said, “By redefining marriage, we tell people of faith, from all religions, that their belief is not important. For many Canadians, especially those of faith, this issue is not closed.
Longtime anti-gay Liberal activist John McKay claimed that equal marriage rights will result in a devaluing of marriage with the result that fewer heterosexuals will want to marry and society will redefine parenthood and children’s rights.
A tag-team of three MPs — out gay NDP MP Bill Siksay and Liberals Hedy Fry and Telegdi — challenged many of the more far-out assertions made by equal marriage opponents.
Fry repeatedly challenged the code language on children’s rights. As a physician, she said, she has delivered children of lesbians and looked after the children of gay men. “Give those children a place in society that is open and fair and equal to all other children,” she pleaded.
And, she noted, heterosexual families have no corner on loving families. Many of the most loving parents she’s met have been gay or lesbian, and while many straights make good parents, she’s encountered others who are not.
Three MPs – Siksay, Réal Ménard and Mario Silva – spoke of their experiences as gay men dealing with homophobia or celebrating loving relationships. Out Liberal Scott Brison, fresh from his leadership campaign, read a magazine for a while but said nothing.
Gays and lesbians watching the debate on television, said Siksay, “know what we’re debating. We’re debating our full participation and our full citizenship. We’re debating yet again … whether we are equals in this society.”
Toronto Liberal Bill Graham pleaded with Harper to make this the last debate on equal marriage. “Promise this country, promise this House, that this is the last time. Tell them it’s not an election strategy. Do not inflict this agony on gays and lesbians.”
The debate also had its humorous side, like the kick-off by government house leader Rob Nicholson. “I support the institution of marriage as it’s been compromised, I mean comprised, for centuries,” he declared to guffaws.
Harper did not participate in the debate.