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Shhh, don’t upset the Americans

US rightwingers love to demonize us

RAIN ON OUR PARADE. Doesn't the US have enough of its own problems, without picking on Canadian queers? Credit: Mia Hansen illustration

To the religious right in the US, Canada is a land where queers run free, able to fuck, marry or adopt anyone they want, protected from the least whiff of homophobia by a draconian legal and political system. And if this isn’t stopped quickly, they believe, the Canada effect will soon turn America into a Sodom to our Gomorrah.

Exactly what are they saying about us south of the border?

“The audacity of gay activists in that country, and the swiftness with which those changes are occurring, is a real cause for alarm here in the US,” American Family Association chair and founder Don Wildmon told media in 2003.

Some US religious groups already believe that even speaking out against homosexuality is illegal. A February article on the website of the National Association For Research And Therapy Of Homosexuality (NARTH) advances this falsehood.

“In Canada, ‘homophobia’ is already illegal. Homosexual activist Member Of Parliament Svend Robinson worked for 10 years to get Bill C-250, a private member’s bill (which almost never get passed into law) through Parliament. The bill added ‘sexual orientation’ to the preexisting hate crimes and genocide bills.” It’s true that sexual orientation was added to the list of characteristics protected by hate speech, but the threshold for what is considered hate speech in Canada is quite high; there are no prosecutions based on sexual orientation on record since Robinson’s bill was proclaimed in April 2004.

US groups seem afraid that if politicians and courts are allowed to act freely, they might not be permitted to say whatever they want about queer people, nor safeguard discriminatory laws. They seem especially worried by the way in which same-sex marriage happened in Canada, through provincial legal decisions (conveniently forgetting that it was eventually ratified by a vote in Parliament).

“The Canadian federal system is similar enough to the American system to give pause to those who argue that same-sex marriage can be contained in certain states,” wrote Bradley CS Watson, a professor at St Vincent University in Pennsylvania. “The goal of those arguing for it at the state level is not the protection of federalism, but the eventual universal triumph of same-sex marriage. This, combined with the logic of modern federal systems unduly dominated by judicial power, does not bode well for traditional marriage or federalism.”

As a result, US groups seem to be working to make sure Canadian decisions are not repeated south of the border. They’re working on entrenching bans on same-sex marriage and excluding queers from legal protections. USA Today newspaper recently reported that 16 states have drafted or discussed bills banning gay men and lesbians from adopting.

These groups are also trying to cut off queer advances at the source: Canada. In 1983 US-based Focus On The Family (FOTF) established Focus On The Family Canada. The Canadian chapter denies receives funding from its US founders, but according to the Toronto Star, the US group’s 2003 financial report stated that “Focus provides, without charge, the cost of certain services necessary for the operation of the Focus On The Family (Canada) Association. The value of these services for the years ending Sept 30, 2003 and 2002 was approximately $217,000 (US) and $239,000 (US) respectively.”

The Canadian chapter also opened the Ottawa-based Institute Of Marriage And Family Canada last year, which, among other things, attacks the right of queer couples to adopt.

Of course, US rightwingers seem aware that most Canadians don’t actually like them or their beliefs. For this story, NARTH didn’t respond to a request for an interview. FOTF referred me to their Canadian chapter despite being specifically asked for an American response. The American Family Association says that despite Wildmon’s repeated statements, Canada is not their focus. They referred me instead to a Connecticut minister, who claims to be an exgay himself and claims he can cure homosexuality.

These groups may be paying attention to the strategy of the US right during the Canadian federal election, who opted not to publicly support Stephen Harper, for fear of setting off the warning bells of middle-of-the-road Canadians.

For example, the CBC reported that Paul Weyrich, who runs a conservative think tank called the Free Congress Foundation, distributed an e-mail urging US rightwingers not to talk to Canadian reporters.

“Canadian voters have been led to believe that American conservatives are scary and if the Conservative party can be linked with us, they can perhaps diminish a Conservative victory,” he warned.

But now the Conservatives are in power, they might find it hard to remain silent.