Why do lesbians and gay men want the right to marry? One reason is equal rights. For centuries, the dominant culture ensured that there was only one love: heterosexual. Opponents of same-sex marriage have selective historical memory when it comes to the iniquities that lesbians and gay men have faced in Canada. They also choose to ignore the fact that discrimination continues to exist in the form of verbal and physical violence perpetrated against the country’s queer citizens.
Another reason for the right to marry is love. To publicly exchange marriage vows is the foundation of an enduring commitment. The desire to form a lifelong bond with a spouse is innate. It can no more be the exclusive property of hetero-sexual people than love can be.
Why is there opposition to civil same-sex marriage?
Religious freedom, say its opponents. Bill C-38 swiftly deals with this argument. It guarantees that in the case of marriage of same-sex couples, no religious official will be forced to perform marriage that is contrary to their belief. Although this caveat solves the issue of religious freedom, some Members Of Parliament still insist that voting for same-sex marriage is a vote against their religion. Since when were MPs mandated to bring their own personal religious views into the mix?
The religious complaint also entirely ignores the fact that in 2003, the United Church Of Canada voted overwhelmingly to endorse same-sex marriages. The church went further and requested that Parliament recognize same-sex marriage in the same way that it does heterosexual marriage.
Many MPs who want to vote against same-sex marriage are pulling out a final trump card: they are voting according to the will of their constituents. In many cases, they are saying that the people they represent have voiced clear opposition to same-sex marriage. This, they claim, is enough for them to vote against Canada’s Charter Of Rights And Freedoms.
Whether the origins are religion- or opinion-based, opposition to same-sex marriage is homophobic, plain and simple.
There is much discussion about how the vote is split along party lines with the Conservatives almost entirely against same-sex marriage, the Liberals split and the NDP and Bloc Québecois almost entirely in favour of it. But opinion is not only divided among political parties, it is also clearly and strikingly demarcated along geographical lines.
The same-sex marriage vote by geographical area shows regionalism in Canada at its finest. MPs from British Columbia are split on the issue; about 80 percent of MPs from the prairies are voting against it; roughly 60 percent of Ontario MPs are voting for it; 99 percent of Quebec MPs are voting for it; and MPs from the Maritimes and territories are largely split on the vote.
Less than one percent of Quebec’s MPs will be voting against Bill C-38. Almost a quarter of Canada’s population resides in Quebec. Of all Canadians, Quebecers are most overwhelmingly in favour of same-sex marriage, with Ontarians following close behind. Beyond a doubt, Quebec is charting the course for same-sex marriage in Canada.
Equal rights for the gays and lesbians of Quebec began as early as 1974 when groups lobbied for the inclusion of sexual orientation in the province’s human rights charter. This was the first appearance of a Canadian gay rights movement before a legislative body. In 1977, Quebec was the first province in Canada to pass a gay civil rights law to include sexual orientation in its Human Rights Code. The law made it illegal to discriminate against gays and lesbians in housing, public accommodation and employment.
The ’70s was also a time when the Quebec separatist movement was mounting. Links were created between the separatists and the gay rights movement, both of which were seeking liberation. It was this commonality that got in the way of Quebec gays and lesbians lobbying at a federal political level in subsequent years.
Perhaps most interesting is the fact that the institution that exercised the greatest influence and has had the most impact on Quebec society is the Catholic Church. It seems, though, that the Church in Quebec has no influence where same-sex marriage is concerned.
This is because the same-sex marriage issue is not about religion. It is about regionalism. It is about culture. It is about society. It is not about where political parties stand, but where the parties are from. Quebec will ensure that Bill C-38 is passed. When it does, this may be the only time that Canadians who care about human rights will celebrate the fact that Quebec voted Oui.