Same-Sex Marriage, by Buzz Hargrove, National Post - January 31, 2005

January 31, 2005

Same-sex Marriage Debate is Over.

I support equality. And so, I support same-sex marriage.

I also support debate. Part of my leadership role as president of the Canadian Auto Workers is to encourage debate among the elected leaders of the union and the quarter of a million Canadians who are our members. In the 1980s and 1990s we debated the issue of bargaining same-sex benefits. We also took leadership on the issue, using our collective power to make corporations do what was right, before it became law.

And we took leadership by putting education and anti-harassment programs in place that define and identify homophobia so all our members have the information they need to challenge and root out discrimination, and promote equality, in our workplaces and communities.

More recently, we took a strong public stand on the right of a young Catholic high school student to attend the prom with his same-sex partner. The debates within our membership and leadership were tough, but in the end we moved forward together and I believe we're a stronger union for it.

When the debate was at its loudest and strongest, it never occurred to me to call an election in my union over same-sex rights, just as it never occurred to me to call an election over religious freedom or racial equality rights. Doing so would have been akin to holding a referendum on minority rights - something that makes no sense at all, not for same-sex or any other minority rights. Neither does it make sense to call an election in Canada over same-sex marriage. I hope the reports are true about the Prime Minister backing away from his 'election' comments on this issue.

While I'm very clear that calling an election on an issue of minority rights would not be a responsible move, I do think taking strong leadership is critical.

Protecting the Charter takes leadership. Martin will need to continue to stay strong on this issue - if there weren't people eager to attack and restrict minority rights, we wouldn't need a Charter in the first place. To this point, I can only imagine that most immigrant Canadians are at least as cynical as I am about Stephen Harper's bid to woo their votes through the same-sex marriage issue. I have every faith they will see that, true to his party's roots, if he's going after gays and lesbians, he'll be after them too.

Protecting the rights of minorities is a question of doing the right thing, not the popular thing. It's interesting however, that in this case, doing the right thing is doing the popular thing. While the politicians are hearing from the well-funded, vocal religious minority, we should remember that Canadians' support for same-sex marriage has been steadily increasing. Over half of Canadians believe that Parliament should pass same-sex marriage legislation. Youth support (18-29) is especially high, with over two-thirds in favour.

Most participants in this debate have been from religious groups. I've been pleased to see the progressive stance taken by the United and Unitarian churches as well as by progressive Catholics, Jews, Muslims and members of other religious groups. Like many other Canadians I've been appalled by some of the arguments put forward by the religious right. Let's not get drawn into deciding between the arguments put forward by various religious factions. Same-sex marriage is not about an attack on religious freedom. The courts have made it abundantly clear that the Charter protects both sexual orientation and religious freedom. The debates can and will go on in religious circles, but they should in no way determine our public policy.

Most opponents of same-sex marriage say that it will destroy the foundation of the family. And yet, I personally know many healthy families whose children include gays and lesbians, as well as same-sex parents who are raising happy, healthy, well-adjusted children (children, by the way, who deserve to have their families recognized and treated equally). Diversity adds strength to families.

Gays and lesbians deserve the same choices as everyone else. Anything less is unacceptable to me, to the majority of Canadians, and to those who have not so far been given the choice. Canadians are ready. Gays and lesbians deserve no less than full equality. The debate can go on, but leadership and action need to be taken now.

As a country, we've had debate on same sex marriage and have heard clearly from the Supreme Court. Let's finish what is already in place for 87% of Canadians who live in provinces that have passed same-sex marriage legislation. It's now time for us to move ahead.