3 min

Stephen Harper is lying

You can't ban and sanction same-sex marriage in the same breath

Credit: Xtra files

It’s no big news flash that Stephen Harper and his social conservative cronies are opposed to same-sex marriage. But he’s lying about what the Supreme Court did and didn’t say when it ruled on the federal government’s same-sex marriage bill. And he’s lying about what the federal government can and can’t do on the issue.

Look at the amendments he’s talking about making to the government’s bill.

Firstly, Harper wants the bill to recognize the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. It’s a bit of stretch to call this an amendment since it’s very purpose is to undermine the recognition of same-sex marriage, but that’s not really a lie.

The lie comes from the fact that he says that the federal government can do this without using the notwithstanding clause. That’s the clause of the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms that governments have to use if they want to override Charter rights. In the world according to Harper, since the Supreme Court did not say whether or not the traditional definition of marriage was unconstitutional, it means it’s constitutional, and there is no need to use the notwithstanding clause.

Not quite, Stephen. Eight courts in eight jurisdictions have said that the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional, thus recognizing same-sex marriage. These decisions would have to be overruled and, while declining to answer directly this time around, the Supreme Court has dropped hints that this will not happen.

In Harper’s fantasy world, the Supreme Court probably wouldn’t go against the will of Parliament on restricting marriage. Well, maybe after he finished packing the court with like-minded social conservatives hellbent on opposing the equality rights of gay folks. Other-wise, there is a pretty clear indication that the current Supreme Court would be quite willing to rule against this discriminatory definition of marriage.

Harper has one choice, and one choice alone. If he wants to defend the traditional definition of marriage he has to use the notwithstanding clause. He has to be prepared to stand up in Parliament and pass a law that violates the equality rights of Canadians. Federal politicians have shied away from using the notwithstanding clause; it’s just not very popular to write laws that violate the rights of Canadians. Knowing this, Harper is refusing to admit it.

Second lie: Harper has said that he would amend the bill to ensure that it provides substantive protections for religious institutions to be free from performing same-sex marriages. The proposed federal bill already had a clause stating that no religious official should have to perform a same-sex marriage against their religious belief. Pretty clear, no?

But the Supreme Court said that the federal government did not actually have the jurisdiction to pass this law. The solemnization of marriage is exclusively a provincial jurisdiction. In any case, the Supreme Court said that the Charter itself protects religious officials from having to perform same-sex marriages against their religious beliefs. No one needs to pass anything; the protection is right there in the Constitution. The fact that he has no jurisdiction and the protection is already there is just too much of a technicality for Harper.

Third amendment, third lie. Harper said that he wants to make sure that the rights of nontraditional unions are protected so that they are afforded the same benefits as married couples. What does he mean? If he means civil unions, he’s out of luck. The Supreme Court made it crystal clear that the federal government has no jurisdiction over civil unions; only the provinces can do it. Does it mean extending all the same rights to gay couples under federal law? Guess what? Already done. He’s lying about his plan to do anything for same-sex couples.

Unlike Alberta Premier Ralph Klein, who never shies away from the most outlandish of claims, Harper doesn’t want to sound like a redneck while he’s trying to stop same-sex marriage. Some have accused him of lacking courage on the issue. I think it’s worse. He seems to have decided that the best policy is to just not tell Canadians the truth.

* Brenda Cossman is a member of the board of directors of Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra.