MP fails test on same-sex marriage

First published:
August 13, 2003

The same-sex marriage issue exploded into a divisive, heated debate over the past few weeks. Northumberland MP Paul Macklin must go to the upcoming caucus meeting on Aug. 19 prepared to provide strong leadership on this important debate. As a community we need to support him.

The federal government is planning to change the definition of marriage to accommodate same-sex couples. This comes after three provincial Supreme Courts – Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia – have said it is against the Charter of Rights and Freedom to prevent these unions from taking place.

Polls of Liberal members of parliament show about 60 are clearly in favour. Forty-eight are opposed and 27 are undecided, according to one national newspaper. With all the debate going on across the country, many MPs say there is lots of arm-twisting by constituents.

For a long time Macklin did not express his position. At first, he argued his job, as parliamentary secretary to the Justice Minister, did not allow him to publicly state his point of view. At one point, MP Svend Robinson leveled allegation he was avoiding controversy by being absent at committee meetings when key motions regarding same-sex were taking place. Macklin denied it.

However, in several recent newspaper polls, he is shown as being in favour of the legislation. Let us hope that is his personal view and not his caucus-mandated position.

What is most disturbing is the intervention of community religious leaders. Twenty-four Northumberland County pastors signed a document called A Unified Christian Response from Clergy of Northumberland County to Proposed Legislation. It calls on elected officials to affirm the “historical Biblical standard upon which Canada was founded.”

No doubt, as with all constituents, these individuals have every right to make their opinions known to their member of parliament. And, as every group and organization, they also have the right to lobby on issues of great concern to their members.

But in this case, church leaders have gone too far. Certainly it is fair for them to ask the government to protect their religious rights not to be forced to perform same sex marriages. Under the Charter, this would be protected in the sections outlining religious freedom.

Macklin clearly supports this position. “I’m concerned about protecting the institution of marriage, but also about protecting the religion of marriage,” he said in one interview.

Yet, it is disturbing when church leaders and other religious zealots call on him to protect Christian values, and those alone.

The Canadian Charter is in place to protect the rights of all members of our society, not just Christians. We all can feel safe when we know that we will not be discriminated against because of our race, gender or our religion. This is our society’s safeguard and must be seen as superceding theological dogma.

Church leaders like Pastor Chuck Tanner, of Glad Tidings Pentecostal Church in Cobourg, argue only 0.5 per cent of all couples in Canada are same-sex common law and so we there is no need to accommodate this minority.

However, Protestants must remember how the Catholic Church once treated them when they were considered a minority. If it had not been for the protection of the state – in particular England, Canada and the United States – those minorities would have been wiped out.

Church leaders must realize their effort to impose the church’s doctrine on public policy is to undermine the intent of important ideals expressed in the Charter.

Then, there are those who argue the courts should not be imposing its will on us. But that is a false. The courts are interpreting the constitution, as they should. It is up to them to hold all of us, including parliament, accountable when someone’s rights are being violated.

As a lawyer, Macklin knows this.

When former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau delivered his speech at the Proclamation of Ceremony when the Constitution was repatriated in 1982, he said, “I speak of a country where every person is free to fulfill himself or herself to the utmost, unhindered by the arbitrary actions of governments.”

We cannot arbitrarily act against the gay community, as much as we cannot act arbitrarily against Protestants or Catholic or Buddhists or B’hai. That is what the courts are telling us.

Finally, there are those ignorant people who are bigots by condemning gays and lesbians in our community because they are different. They can be easily ignored. The same goes for those who are afraid of change.

When Macklin goes to the upcoming caucus meeting, he should be working hard to convince his fellow Liberals to support same-sex marriage. To do any less is to spit on his party’s history as leaders in social reform and as framers of this country’s most significant document: the Charter.

Hopefully human rights will supercede political expediency for those who lack the courage.  Macklin should be able to point to his own riding to demonstrate a balanced understanding of the issue rather than a divisive one.

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