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Wednesday, February 02, 2005

John Ibbitson's column 

I can link to today's Globe article about gay marriage: Skip gay marriage vote, Liberal MPs told which buries the news that at least three Conservative MPs (Jim Prentice from Calgary, James Moore from BC and Belinda Stronach) will vote in favour of gay marriage.
But behind the Globe's firewall is John Ibbitson's great column.
Ibbitson makes the point that the Conservatives and the church leaders talking up their opposition to gay marriage are lying to people about the real basis of their concern -- hiding their anti-gay discrimination in a cloak of religious victimhood:
Why are some religious and political leaders deliberately trying to deceive voters by complaining that churches could be forced to perform same-sex marriages? The ministers, priests, rabbis, imans and Conservative politicians who are leading the fight against the same-sex marriage legislation introduced yesterday must know as a matter of plain fact that no religious institution will ever be compelled to marry a gay couple. They know this. Yet they don't seem to care.
Yesterday, they were at it again. "The protection for religious freedom is an empty promise," declared Janet Epp of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper echoed her: "The Liberal bill provides little in the way of assurance that religious freedoms will be protected if the legal definition of marriage is changed." Why do they say such things? Both referred to last December's Supreme Court reference, in which the court stated that "it would be for the provinces, in the exercise of their power over the solemnization of marriage, to legislate in a way that protects the rights of religious officials." Taken that far, it sounds as though only the provinces have the power to protect churches from compulsory marriage of homosexuals. But Mr. Harper and Ms. Epp neglected to tell you what the court said next: "Human rights codes must be interpreted and applied in a manner that respects the broad protection granted to religious freedom under the Charter." And "absent unique circumstances with respect to which we will not speculate, the guarantee of religious freedom in Section 2 (a) of the Charter is broad enough to protect religious officials from being compelled by the state to perform civil or religious same-sex marriages." The court couldn't be any plainer. Barring circumstances the judges can't even imagine, the Charter's guarantees of religious freedoms protect the clergy from being forced to marry anyone. The court went on to emphasize that the same protection would apply to religious spaces as well as religious figures. The added protections contained in the legislation are actually redundant. The Constitution provides the churches will all the protection they need.
So why do these religious and political leaders deliberately seek to mislead by claiming they could be forced to marry gays? Some Catholics and evangelical Protestants, in particular, hope to demonstrate the growing power of the religious right in Canada by winning a big political fight. But if they declared, "Homosexuality is evil. Same-sex marriage is a moral perversion," which is what they actually believe, a lot of people would turn away from them. Instead, they portray themselves as victims.
As for Mr. Harper and his advisers, part of their motive is sheer devilment. The same-sex issue is splitting the Liberal caucus in two. And it is a political maxim, which the Conservatives know only too well, that voters will not support a divided party.
More important, the Conservatives believe that fighting same-sex marriage will win them votes among immigrants from socially conservative countries. The Tories are desperate to win ethnic voters away from the Liberals. They are hoping that South Asian and Chinese immigrants in BC's lower mainland and in the riding around Toronto, in particular, are so uncomfortable with the idea of gays getting married that they will switch their support, delivering a dozen or more seats to the Conservatives in the next election. This is a dangerous strategy. Hands up, everyone who has a child more socially conservative than you are. The Tories risk permanently branding themselves as homophobes in the eyes of younger voters. But Mr. Harper obviously believes short-term advantage outweighs long-term harm.
We are about to get dragged through five months of agonizing debate on this legislation. We need to accept that people of goodwill can be found on both sides of this issue. But there is no goodwill in arguing that churches will be forced to marry gays. It is misleading. It is deceptive. It is a lie.

Right on, John. And as the months go on, keep reminding people about this deception.

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