Toronto
3 min

Up against the Inquisition

Activists mobilize against marriage naysayers

SIDE OF ANGELS. Joanne Cohen isn't frightened of religious arguments. Credit: Dean Tomlinson

While opponents of same-sex marriage have been grabbing the headlines this month, queer activists are cooking up plans to woo Canadians and MPs to support the marriage bill.



Though Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, his cabinet and even PM-in-waiting Paul Martin support legalizing same-sex marriage – which will likely be put to a free vote in Parliament this fall or winter after the Supreme Court Of Canada gives a ruling on the bill’s constitutionality – activists are describing the campaign as a David and Goliath battle.



“I think David and Goliath is a good [way of putting it],” says Laurie Arron, the new director of advocacy for the national queer lobby group Egale Canada. “I like it because David won.”



Egale hosted a strategy session in Ottawa last Friday with supportive and interested parties -people from the United Church, the Canadian Federation Of Students, Parents, Family And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) and various labour unions – to figure out a game plan for the weeks ahead. Arron says Canadians should expect, “a big ramp-up in our campaign,” which will include lots of lobbying, petition writing and perhaps an advertising campaign.



“People are going to see that this fight has gone way beyond being about marriage,” Arron says. “It’s about the place of GLBT [gay, lesbian, bi and trans] people in society.”



So far Egale has focussed its attention on lobbying members of the Liberal caucus to counter the inundation of opposition from the religious right. Particular attention is being paid to the 45-or-so Liberals who, according to Arron, are still undecided.



At the same time, grassroots activists are taking matters into their own hands. The issue is even creating activists. Dan Wilcox, who lives in Liberal MP Dennis Mills’ Toronto-Danforth riding, says the issue has spurred him to action. He’s been e-mailing and calling around to encourage people to lobby Mills and other MPs.



“I’ve had it,” Wilcox says of Mills’ voting record on gay and lesbian oriented legislation. “Some others who I’ve talked to and who are not politically active are saying, ‘I want to protest.’ This is pulling people in directions they haven’t been pulled before.”



Mills’ campaign office says the MP is on vacation but states his position as undecided. Wilcox says that Mills is out of touch with his constituency, which some estimate as having the second largest gay and lesbian community in the province.



Informal surveys suggest opponents of the bill could swing more than 140 of the 301 votes available in the House Of Commons, raising the question: What happens if the bill fails?



Joanne Cohen, a legal studies scholar and a representative for the Coalition Of Canadian Liberal Rabbis For Same-Sex Marriage, says the country could see a repeat of what happened with abortion.



“When the abortion law was struck down, another law was not drafted to take its place because it was too contentious an issue,” Cohen says. “It would be a very interesting situation if for some reason the vote is not successful, because Parliament has been ordered to fix this and if they balk at fixing this, it will be like the abortion situation where same-sex marriages will continued to be allowed in Ontario and BC with a patchwork across the country…. We are going to have a lot more lawsuits on our hands.”



Cohen admits that many activists weren’t prepared for the Vatican and the US President George Bush to wade into the Canadian debate with their money and clout.



“Those who are opposed are the same people we have heard from in the last 100 years with every social change,” says Cohen. “There is always the Chicken Little argument of the moral majority. They say we are going to hell in a handbasket and I say no, no, no. We are actually getting closer to heaven the more equal we become.”



Gabe Thirwall, the new national director of the Student Christian Movement Of Canada, says religious people should not be opposed to same-sex marriage.



“I’m so angered with the power the Vatican still holds over people,” she says. “The document that came out is from the Congregation For The Doctrine Of The Faith which if you look historically is the Inquisition. They gave it a new name.



“This [is an] abuse of power, telling people your soul is going here, your soul is going there,” says Thirwall. She adds that single mothers, straight people in common-law relationships and divorced people should also be upset by some of the things being said.



“It marginalizes anyone who doesn’t fit this really ideal, ‘This is marriage’ image,” she says.



* Constituents of Dennis Mills’ riding can contact Dan Wilcox at danwto@hotmail.com or Mills’ office at (416) 462-3250. A complete list of Canadian MPs and their e-mail addresses is located at www.parl.gc.ca. Click on “senators and members,” then click “House Of Commons, Current.”