This week, same-sex marriage has Prime Minister Stephen Harper whistling along to U.S. President George W. Bush's tune. Both leaders asked that the issue be reopened, so snuffing gay and lesbian marriage was a potential for both Canada and the U.S.
Canadians for Equal Marriage cochair Mary-Woo Sims told the Georgia Straight that she wants to know if the dual-country debate, announced the same weekend, is just a coincidence.
“The timing is really disturbing,” she said. “It's in the Canadian psyche now, when we have other, more important things to deal with....Like the American president, he's trying to draw attention away from other issues, such as Afghanistan. It's really disappointing.”
Harper told reporters on June 2 that he hopes to reopen debate on same- sex marriage this fall. A new debate was one of his election promises. Unlike Bush, who simply arranged a senate vote, Harper's route meanders. First, he plans to ask Parliament whether or not it should debate same sex-marriage again. Then Parliament may debate the issue again; if so, then MPs may decide differently.
The Canadian bill that federally legalized gay and lesbian marriages (Bill C-38) was approved under the Liberal government on July 20, 2005.
South of the 49th parallel, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act hasn't been able to keep some judges from ruling against the one-man-and-one-woman federal marriage laws. However, only the state of Massachusetts allows same-sex marriage, and has since 2004.
Bush blames the division on “activ?ist judges”. In a nationwide radio address on June 3, Bush told Americans: “Ages of experience have taught us that the commitment of a husband and a wife to love and to serve one another promotes the welfare of children and the stability of society. Marriage cannot be cut off from its cultural, religious, and natural roots….Government, by recognizing and protecting marriage, serves the interests of all.”
On June 7, the U.S. Senate voted 49–48 not to ban same-sex marriage across the country.
From a Canadian human-rights perspective, though, Vancouver lawyer Clea Parker told the Straight there's no reason homosexual relationships should be treated differently from heterosexual ones.
“This is a wearying and divisive thing to spend Canadian resources on,” she said. “Is this the most important thing facing Canadians today? No. There's the environment, who's throwing their weight around overseas, our relationship with the U.S., health care. There's lots of critical issues the government could be spending time on.”
Whether or not same-sex marriage is truly a critical issue, Canadians are divided on it. About one-third of citizens think it's a significant enough subject on which to call an election, according to an Ipsos-Reid poll from January 2005. One year earlier, 46 percent of British Columbians believed that marriage laws should not change to include same-sex couples. Across Canada, it was 49 percent, with the most naysayers in Alberta (60 percent) and the Prairies (58 percent).
In contrast, a June 4 Gallup poll reported that 58 percent of Americans think same-sex marriage and civil unions should be illegal.
Sims pointed out that the institution of marriage is far from threatened in B.C. and Ontario, which approved same-sex-marriage laws almost three years ago.
“Life as we know it has not changed,” she told the Straight. “If we reopen the debate, it will be divisive and hurtful to a segment of society.”