This week the long-awaited bill on same-sex marriage, Bill C-38, was introduced in the House Of Commons.
Expect the bill to dominate the news agenda in Canada until it passes (or not), which could take more than six months getting through three readings, a committee and the Senate – a tricky timeframe for the minority Liberal government.
The issue has been at the top of the news for the past several weeks with Conservative leader Stephen Harper insisting that legalized polygamy would be next, while Paul Martin defended same-sex marriage as he travelled around Asia following the tsunami disaster.
James Dobson, head of the US-based rightwing Christian group Focus On The Family, waded into the fight, while Catholic bishops and priests across the country called for their congregations to actively oppose the bill.
“What has become absolutely apparent is that for opponents of equality this is their last chance, and so those who support the exclusion of lesbian and gay people from civil marriage are pouring everything they’ve got into defeating the bill,” says Alex Munter, former Ottawa regional councillor, and the national coordinator for Canadians For Equal Marriage. “If they defeat the bill, that is the platform from which they will launch years of sustained ongoing effort to roll back the clock on human rights.
“The end game here is to use the defeat of the bill as phase one of a much bigger campaign that would really call into question the place of lesbian and gay people in society,” he says.
Munter is calling on all queers to mobilize and ensure that the legislation passes. Prime Minister Paul Martin is permitting a free vote, except for cabinet ministers who will be expected to support the bill. The NDP and Bloc Québécois are expected to support the bill and most Conservatives to oppose it. That leaves its fate in the hands of the divided Liberal backbench.
“I think if the vote were held today the equal marriage bill would be adopted”, says Munter. “But its not being held today and there is a tremendous amount of pressure being put on MPs.”
Indeed, the opponents of marriage are rallying the troops and investing significant amounts of money into ensuring a defeat of the bill. Canadian Citizens To Defend has a six-part plan, which includes a petition against marriage, a lobbying campaign for a referendum on the issue, lobbying of MPs, donations, spreading the message and supporting the Conservative Party.
Focus On The Family, using a $280,000 grant from another Christian group, is creating the Canadian Centre For Marriage And Family to promote “public policy that values human life, marriage and the family.” It’s currently searching for an executive director; the advertised salary is $100,000 plus benefits.
The issue has also been challenging the leaders of political parties. Martin is facing heat for requiring cabinet ministers to vote for the bill, but insists that he doesn’t consider this to be a non-confidence bill, one that could risk him losing power and a new election.
“It is not my intention to go into an election. We want to govern. But if you’re asking me am I ready to go into an election to uphold the Charter Of Rights against those who would attack it? The answer is certainly yes,” Martin said at a news conference on his Asian tour.