Canada’s Premier Stands Firm

Paul Martin challenges Conservative opponents on voters’ support for gay marriage nationwide

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, of the governing Liberal Party, accepted the challenge of his Conservative Party opponents to fight the next elections on the issue of Parliament’s passage of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.

In the wake of the Canadian Parliament’s passage of gay marriage legislation on June 28, Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper vowed that his partner will bring the same-sex marriage law back up for parliamentary review if it wins victory in national elections expected next year.

“If somebody wants to have an election on the basis of using the notwithstanding clause to overturn a Charter right, then let’s have it,” Martin said, referring to legislative language that Conservatives have threatened to invoke to derail the law.

Martin added that voters are already looking past the issue, stating, “I believe it is an issue that Canadians want to put behind them.”

Same-sex marriage rights were first awarded by provincial courts in 2003, citing the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the only way to rescind those rights is for Parliament to invoke the notwithstanding clause, a maneuver that would place the issue on hold for five years. Neither the federal nor any provincial government has used the clause, a compromise measure adopted to quell debate over the relative power of the federal versus provincial authorities, since the Charter’s 1982 adoption.

The Charter stipulates a guarantee of equal protection and “equal benefit of the law without discrimination” regardless of race, national or ethnic origin, skin color, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability, and courts beginning with the highest court in Ontario in 2003 have interpreted that guarantee to extend to gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage rights, based on grounds of “human dignity.”

In Alberta, among the final holdouts against same-sex marriage, Justice Minister Ron Stevens, is looking to find a way around the new federal law, which must still be adopted by the Senate. Options include leading a fight for a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage or “performing only civil unions and leaving marriage up to churches,” Canadian TV reported. Neither forestalling tactic is seen as likely to succeed.

In Edmonton, Alberta, two gay bashings in the last week have been linked to the debate over same-sex marriage. Robert Smith, who was punched and called a “fag,” told CTV, “We did not believe this was happening—and all just because we were holding hands.”

Constable Dave Higgins said, “It’s like a cancer, and that’s why the Edmonton Police Service takes these crimes so seriously.”

In Cobalt, Ontario, a Roman Catholic parish priest, Rev. Jon Lemire, denied communion to Charlie Angus, a New Democratic member of Parliament who voted for the gay marriage bill. Angus, his wife and their children have stopped attending the church. The Ottawa Citizen reported that Lemire believes Catholic politicians are expected to “adhere to the church’s values while carrying out their legislative duties, just as any Catholic should follow their faith in the workplace.”

Lemire’s superior, Paul Marchand, the bishop of Timmins, has backed the priest’s position.

In Sudbury in northeastern Ontario, the pastor of the Glad Tidings Tabernacle, Rev. John Shepherd, says he will no longer sign marriage licenses for any couples, to avoid charges of discrimination under the new law. He will still perform religious ceremonies for straight couples. The law does not require religious institutions to perform marriages that violate their faith.