The same-sex marriage debate is far from dead

  • December 19, 2006

Sometimes politicians have a rather exalted sense of their own authority. Witness the comments in the aftermath of the vote in the House of Commons Dec. 7 over same-sex marriage.

Almost uniformly, members of Parliament, from Prime Minister Stephen Harper on down, said that the vote, in which a motion to reopen the debate over the definition of civil marriage was defeated 175-123, was the end of the matter.

It is not. And it won't be, just like the tied vote in the Senate that defeated an abortion law in 1991 was not the end of the abortion debate. Or, unfortunately, just like the death of a private member's bill to legalize euthanasia in the last Parliament did not end the debate over euthanasia and doctor-assisted suicide.

Just because a particular vote has passed, the subject is not closed, the debate has not ended. It has just switched to a different battlefield.

Those who defended traditional marriage had already prepared for this loss before it happened, having seen that it wasn't going to be a serious attempt to try to undo the damage done by the legalization of same-sex marriage across Canada encompassed in Bill C-38, which passed the House of Commons in June 2005.

Granted, Harper fulfilled his election campaign promise to the letter. He allowed a free vote in the House on reopening the debate. Most of his own caucus supported the resolution, as did 13 members of the Liberal party. The prime minister and all those who supported the motion showed significant courage in the face of almost universal scorn in national news media and from pro-gay lobbyists.

By comparison, the other parties displayed disdain for the Constitution they loudly defended. The NDP and Bloc Quebecois leaders forced their caucus members to vote against the motion. Apparently their desire to defend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms is selective; they were quite willing to sacrifice the freedom of religion and free speech of their own members (two freedoms actually written in the charter) in favour of a "right" that has been fabricated by judges. And even Liberal Leader Stephane Dion only allowed a free vote because he thought the resolution was meaningless. As he told the press, if the vote would actually have changed the law, he would have whipped his caucus to vote against it.

Still, the debate over the resolution was desultory — the House was nearly empty during most of the speeches — and the outcome preordained. It was an unpleasant piece of business and the MPs wanted to get it over with so they could turn to happier things — such as closing down for the Christmas holidays.

So where does marriage — that is, the one between a man and a woman that is open to having and raising children — stand now? All the federal parties seem to be happy with a status quo that recognizes any two people can be married regardless of their sex. We cannot expect one party to carry our flag; nor should we. Marriage and the family are issues that cross partisan lines.

Popular opinion is largely happy with the situation, even though most people still squirm knowing that the country has unleashed a whirlwind that is poised to completely undermine the already shaky institution of marriage. Even though the family is the basic building block of society, it has few champions among the country's power elites. No one even wants to know what damage has been wrought; witness the deaf ear to calls for more social research on the impact of the new legal definition on the family. And let's not talk about children's rights to have and know biological parents. After all, they don't vote.

Those who defend marriage now know we face daunting odds. It is, indeed, a long game we must play and victory is not certain. But the lesson of the last few years is that public opinion can be moved by concerted lobbying and education campaigns; when public opinion shifts, courts and politicians follow.

That means renewed emphasis on and support for families themselves within the churches and faith groups that support the age-old definition of marriage. The now 40-year-old struggle of families against overwhelming cultural forces has done untold damage and churches must show how they can help parents to deal with all the societal pressures they face.

We need also to offer positive role models of families both current and from our history. The Vaniers, the St. Gianna Mollas, the Holy Family all offer examples that display some of the ideal attributes of family life. But we must also find modern-day parents who can speak to their brothers and sisters, and show how they deal with the struggles of working couples, of day-care, sexual confusion, respect and human dignity. These people, obviously, will not be plaster saints but imperfect human beings — they've been there.

Finally, we must be more embracing of the broken families in our midst and find room for them in our churches. After all, we are all broken and wounded people; this is why God sent His only Son to earth to walk alongside us.

This is not a call for an end to political action. It does, though, recognize that in a democracy such lobbying can only be successful if it is backed by public awareness and support. Despite the current legal problem, most Canadians are uneasy about what has become of family life and are receptive to those offering help and clear solutions. The strength of our political lobbying will be only as good as we can show, by word and deed, that we truly care for mom, dad and the kids.

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