In the middle of the night in the Alberta town of Stony Plain (pop 7,226), a man wakes up, rolls over and looks sadly at his sleeping wife.
“I feel the bond between us weakening. I saw on the news tonight, a couple of fags in downtown Toronto are calling themselves married.”
It’s the vision of this fragile Canadian hetero that the federal government seems obsessed with as it blocks same-sex marriage, dooming us to tedious conversations about the merits of this tattered institution for another two years… or five years… or 20 years… however many years it takes for the Supreme Court Of Canada to cough up the decision everyone sees it as fated to deliver.
I say doomed because, despite the grandiose and divisive treatment homo marriage has received on front pages, despite all the time and effort spent to advocate it and fight it, only a tiny fraction of the Canadian population on either side think much about it. Sure, the polls offer us an edge-of-your-seat split: about 48 percent supporting same-sex marriage with about 43 percent opposed. But if pollsters introduced a disqualifier to the question – “Do you care whether homos can marry?” – you’d have a scenario of two percent of the Canadian population scratching out the eyes of another two percent of the population over the ownership of the words, “I do.”
The ban on same-sex marriage might be the last residual bit of major legislation discriminating against homos, but that isn’t really what has turned it into the last stand for gay and lesbian equality.
If it were only that, governments would have granted marriage long ago and not wasted their time confusing Canadians with a myriad of relationship regulations nobody can figure out: Are you one-year common-law, two-years common-law, registered domestic partners (Nova Scotia), extra-strength registered domestic partners (Quebec) or do you merely do your taxes together? If coming up with 17 subspecies of not-quite-marriage is saving marriage from a queer invasion, I can’t wait to see the plans for health care reform.
No, what’s allowed this marginal debate to take central stage – what’s caused federal Liberal ministers to turn into twitchy cowards – is the value that marriage advocates and opponents have invested in the word “marriage.” Both sides agree it means one sweeping thing: “We like you.” “We” being the people of Canada. “You” being homosexuals.
This definition, as nicely as it fits on a T-shirt, is unfair to both sides. In pluralistic Canada, our anxious Stony Plain resident is perfectly entitled to think that homosexuality is immoral because of Leviticus or even because that’s what his uncle Ralph once told him. Not to say that Mr Stony Plain should be able to discriminate against homos, but he should be able to dislike them. To create a situation where Mr Stony Plain feels his government has spoken for him on a moral issue is to create a nation of compromised citizens.
The “we like you” definition of marriage also compromises marriage activists and, whether we like it or not, all homos. By equating marriage with social approval, a deeper truth has been clouded: That gay men and lesbians don’t need the permission of governments, churches or other institutions to be human and to demonstrate our value.
By attaching so much meaning to the permission to marry, advocates have set themselves up to be judged by others, a large step back from the “we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it” spirit of the past.
So it’s important to see the legalization of same-sex marriage for what it is – and only what it is. It would rightfully bring Canadian legislation in line with the existing reality of some (but certainly not all) same-sex relationships. It would rightfully bring Canadian legislation in line with the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. It would clear up paperwork and confusion.
But it would not make Mr Stony Plain like fags and dykes, any more than it will throw his marriage into apocalyptic tumult.
Paul Gallant is Features Editor and Acting News Editor for Xtra.