Saturday, September 23, 2006

The Importance of Same-Sex Marriage in Current Canadian Politics

Conventional wisdom has it that the Liberals were turfed out of Ottawa (barely) because of the sponsorship scandal, but I'm starting to wonder if the real force behind the Harper throne is opposition to same-sex marriage. Or more accurately, a social conservative movement for which gay marriage was a hot button issue after it was legalized by Bill C-38.

Federal Liberals started going public about their support for same-sex marriage shortly before the last Ontario election. I was living in a rural riding then, and when I was out stumping for my Liberal candidate I was yelled at and chased down driveways by people who were irate about gay marriage - even though it's not a provincial issue. Around that time the Vatican threatened to excommunicate Prime Minister Martin if he continued with the legalization. It makes sense that that anger would carry through into the next federal election.

Marci McDonald, an acclaimed Canadian political journalist, wrote an article for the October Walrus called "Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons: The rising clout of Canada's religious right." She provides some interesting statistics:

64% of weekly Protestant church-goers - the vast majority of them Evangelicals - voted Conservative in the last election, a 24% jump from 2004. ...For the first time in the history of polling in Canada, Catholics who attend church weekly also shifted a majority of their votes from the Liberals to Harper's party.

The Roman Catholic church has continued to agitate, even after the Canadian Supreme Court and Parliament both legalized gay marriage. Earlier this month (around the same time he was offending Muslims) the Pope announced that Canada has excluded god from the public sphere. He described our legalization of gay marriage as "folly".

Bill C-38 also got the attention of Americans. I happened to be in North Carolina during the discussion of the bill, and was shocked to see an entire hour-long Ottawa press conference by Jean Chretien shown live on American TV. If you've ever spent time in the US you'll know that Canada is rarely mentioned and Canadian politicians are completely ignored. But Canadian legalization of same-sex marriage was huge news in the States. And according to McDonald, American Evangelicals poured money across the border to support the gay marriage opposition.

All of this opposition was centered in the Conservative party, who as a consequence were able to elect 70 Evangelicals.

The rise of religion as a political force in Canada is easy to miss, because it's hiding. The proponents of theo-con values know not to speak to mainstream media. They speak in churches and Christian schools, and they are very careful to be discreet.

The good news for Liberals is that the longer same-sex marriage remains legal, the more time Canadians will have to realize that it's not doing any harm. Who has suffered because some gay people got married? Who has even noticed a difference? We don't have to change the minds of Canadians about same-sex marriage to win this battle; we just have to wait till not many care very much about it.

The threat is that Harper will be able to carry on the movement with other hot button theo-con issues such as abortion and assisted suicide. McDonald's article is a real eye-opener, detailing many highly funded, well-organized evangelical advocacy movements that have sprung up in Canada over the last few years. If they become permanently entrenched, Canadian democracy and the protection of our human rights will be in desperate danger.

Our opportunity is that Harper has to reopen the same-sex marriage debate this fall, and he's vulnerable because it forces him to show his colors, something he has been working hard not to do. It wasn't too long ago that Stockwell Day, then leader of the Canadian Alliance, was laughed out of office for promoting creationism and claiming that dinosaurs and man lived together.

For more on the theo-con threat, see James Laxer's blog.

(The Walrus doesn't publish articles electronically until a couple of months after they're released.)


No comments: