The Canadian Imagination

What it means to be Canadian; examining and reworking Canada as a nation.

Friday, July 15, 2005

What lies in a word?

If we do not step forward, then we will step back, and if we do not respect a right, then we deny it.
- Prime Minister Paul Martin

So much smoke and mirrors.

To allow homosexual couples the same rights and protections as are conferred by the act of marriage: that much is only fair, and that much was confirmed by the Supreme Court under the Charter. Martin chooses, however, to forget that the Supreme Court had flung another part of the question right back at Parliament: not whether or not to allow, not a union of a homosexual couple conferring the same rights and privileges as for a heterosexual couple, but whether to allow them the actual act of marriage. If gay marriage were to be legal in Canada, it would have to be specifically legislated.

Me, I believe a language is mutable, that meanings can change (the word "gay" suggests as much); and that the essential spirit of the word remains intact so long as it refers to a union intended to be permanent between two persons -- and in fact I would have no problem whatsoever with permitting it to include more: welcome and embracing the slippery slope! but always with that proviso of the intent for permanency. Others -- to large extent represented by Stephen Harper and the Conservative party, as well as by some Liberals such as Pat O'Brien -- do not agree. I do see their point. To assign this specific word to this union is to translate all the connotations and values associated with that word to homosexual unions consumated under the shelter of that word. If those values are held to be exclusive to unions between one man and one woman, to use the term "marriage" in any other context is to use it incorrectly, and (at one extreme) immorally.

But in seizing upon the gay marriage question as an issue of rights, Paul Martin has granted himself a free "Advance to Go" card, allowing him to ignore the other question entirely ... and thus in effect bluntly hammering the issue down everyone's throats without regard for any perspective other than his own, while using the Charter as a shield. As it happens, I agree with the outcome ... but (to put it mildly) it has not enhanced Canadian unity, taking the approach he has chosen.

And so the rift between the heterogenous, inclusionary parties (so long as you toe the party line) and the increasingly special regional interest parties grows a little deeper, and we drift a little close to tearing apart.


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