Paul Martin has a new set of best friends: gay men and lesbians.
During the election campaign, he discovered equality rights, gay and lesbian equality rights at that. Despite his lack of interest in the past, our rights proved to be a particularly powerful weapon with which to beat up Conservative Leader Stephen Harper. And for the moment, Martin has won.
Now that Martin is an equality convert, and we are his new best friends, let’s talk. There are a few things that we would actually like. You know, like equality rights.
Let’s start with marriage. The marriage reference is being heard by the Supreme Court Of Canada in the fall. The court is being asked to rule on whether the draft marriage law – which allows same sex marriage, but provides a religious exemption (no one will have to perform a marriage against their religious beliefs) – is constitutional.
Job number one: fill the two vacancies on the Supreme Court Of Canada before the reference. Fill them with the two most qualified judges available. Fill them now.
Job number two: don’t back down, not one inch from the commitment to equal marriage.
This will include the matter of the promised free vote in Parliament. That’s a problem since not all Liberals seem to agree with the prime minister that equality means equality for gay men and lesbians. Martin must do some work within his own party, convincing his MPs that this is a matter of conscience, this is a matter of equality.
But there is a whole lot more to equality for gay folks than marriage.
There’s the Canada Pension Plan class action case. The case is a challenge to the fact that gay men and lesbians whose partners died before 1998 do not qualify for survivor benefits. In December, an Ontario Court ruled in favour of same-sex survivors, saying that the CPP rules violate their equality rights. Martin and Justice Minister Irwin Cotler decided to appeal that decision.
Equality rights for gay folks? Apparently not when its going to cost the government a lot of money. If Martin really has discovered equality, his next job is to abandon the appeal. Many of the survivors are old; it would be an embarrassment to hold out until they have passed away.
Then there’s censorship at the border.
Little Sister’s bookstore is back in court, once again challenging Canada Border Services Agency (formerly Canada Customs) for seizing and censoring books en route to their bookstore (turn to page 19 for more). It seems as if the border cops learned little to nothing from all that litigation. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court Of Canada told them to clean up their act, and stop targeting gay and lesbian bookstores, border inspectors, it seems, can’t resist.
In a case scheduled for later this year, Little Sister’s is targetting Canada’s obscenity laws in the Criminal Code, as well as the Customs Tariff they’ve fought in the past.
Guess what? The federal government is opposing Little Sister’s on everything.
If Martin is serious about equality rights, he needs to take a serious look at how Canada’s obscenity laws are used against gay and lesbian materials. A very serious look. At a minimum, he needs to call off the attack dogs, and clean up the way the Canada Border Services Agency does business.
Last but not least, there are the consensual sex laws, the bawdy-house laws, the indecency laws, the anal sex laws – all the laws that are used to criminalize consensual gay sex. A commitment to the equality rights of gay men and lesbians must include a willingness to look at how all of these laws are used to target us.
Equality rights may have been a useful way to expose Stephen Harper for the extreme social conservative that he is. But, as we know, it’s not an empty concept. There are things that need to be done. It’s time for Martin to do them.
* Brenda Cossman is a member of board of directors of Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra.