Sunday, January 30, 2005

Why Gay Marriage is Important

Parliament returns from their winter vacation this week and the first item on the agenda will be Same Sex Marriage. Initially thought to be a slam dunk, the legislation has become a hot button issue in recent weeks as a coalition of right wing elements have risen to fight for traditional marriage. Led by Stephen Harper, these groups argue that legalizing gay marriage would destroy the moral fabric of society, opening the door to higher divorce rates, pornography and even polygamy. The simple fact is that they are ignoring the underlying issues at the heart of the debate and employ a series of arguments with dangerous implications for the future of our nation.

A recent article in the journal Human Genetics identifies three chromosomes which appear to control sexuality in men. Additionally, zoologists have long been aware of homosexual animals. There are even a pair of gay penguins at New York's Central Park Zoo which have been mates for more than six years. Opponents of same sex marriage have long argued that homosexuality was a lifestyle you "chose", something which increasingly appears to be untrue. If homosexuality is in fact a genetic mutation, and all indications are that it is, then persecuting gays not only opens a dangerous door for the future, but harkens back to a dark period in the history of humanity. Only in the last century did we truly make progress in ending racism and already conservatives have found a new genetic difference upon which to base their persecution.

The conservative mantra also ignores the most important document in Canada. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms could not be more clear on this issue. Section fifteen clearly states: "Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination". Courts across the country have, in recent years, affirmed that section fifteen guarantees homosexuals are constitutionally guaranteed the right to wed.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper has claimed that he is the only tolerant Canadian politician on the issue of gay rights. He insists Prime Minister Martin and others are ignoring the beliefs of the public, putting the minority before the majority. Harper sites an internal Conservative poll which shows Canadians are against gay marriage; unfortunately, this goes against almost every independent poll ever taken on the issue. This past December, an Environics Research Group poll found that 54% of Canadians were in favour of passing same-sex legislation. What exactly was the methodology of his internal poll?

Harper and other right wing leaders have long suggested that the introduction of legalized gay marriage will lead to the destruction of 'traditional' families. They insist that changing the definition of marriage will open the door to legalizing all sorts of 'immoral' behaviours, polygamy in particular. What the right fails to acknowledge is the fundamental difference between polygamy and gay marriage. One is about granting equal rights to all citizens, the other suggests creating new rights for all. The two are polar opposites, yet the right claims they are closely linked. The only reason for doing so is to cloud the fact that their ideology is based on prejudice, discrimination and homophobia.

Conservatives' arguments against gay marriage are based almost entirely on morality. Such individuals are generally very religious, and often site their religious texts as the source of their moral outrage. This raises a simple question: are we a nation based on democracy, reason, law and order or are we a nation of fundamentalist zealots? Canada is supposed to have separation of church and state. In fact, our political leaders frequently speak out against fundamentalist nations, citing their intolerance and abuse of human rights. Do these same rules not apply to us? Is the foundation of our country the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or is it the bible?

The debate over gay marriage is far from over. The Knights of Columbus are in the process of sending out tens thousands of letters, American religious leaders are getting involved, and Stephen Harper is preparing for a valiant last stand in Commons. In these days to come, the opinion of the masses will be of growing import. It is vital for people to remember that the issue here is not what we believe in, but what is legal and what is right for the future. Do we want to have a society based on religion, intolerance and persecution of those who are different, or is our goal an inclusive society based on equality?


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