Just say Yes! Just say No!

Two-ring   circus

Parliament's public consultations become
a slag-fest of competing fundamentalists


"If this kind of hatred and venom were directed at blacks or aboriginal people, does anyone think that members around this committee would be silent and just listen as this kind of hatred is spewed? I don't think so."

MP Svend Robinson

"Everybody's got a marriage monologue," Xtra! moaned on April 17 after "the travelling road show that is the parliamentary Standing Committee On Justice And Human Rights" arrived in Toronto, hard on heated "visitations to heartland bastions like Steinbach, Manitoba and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. ... There's extremism and skewed logic all around when the same-sex marriage committee comes to town."

Yes. All around. Xtra! predictably reported the ravings of right-wing religious wing-nuts -- but other fundamentalists also had their say. Ostensibly set up to explore a range of legal options for recognition of relationships, the committee got cast in the usual frame: "same-sex marriage." And with the usual answers: Yes, or No. It became, inevitably, a two-ring circus: a spectacle offering up all the old fiery if familiar routines.

There were some less dazzling sideshows. CLGRO, the Coalition For Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario, "were certainly earnest, well-prepared and reasonably calm," Xtra! noted. "But their order is a big one. They want the state to eliminate marriage out-right and let brothers and sisters and fags and dykes and cats and dogs all become equal under one big domestic partnership law."

The Sudbury Star reported "Laurentian University professor Gary Kinsman" (a long-time gay lib activist) telling the committee that the state should stop "privileging marriage over other committed relationships," that the institution of marriage discriminates against "all sorts of other relationships" and "should be done away with," replaced by wider forms of legal recognition, reflecting "the reality of what's going on in Canadian society."

Polygamy? Pederasty?

CLGRO's (pet-free) position:

to the Federal Consultation
on Same-Sex Marriage

"Curious," one committee member called Kinsman's position. It was certainly one rarely heard by his fellow parliamentarians. If getting to hear that homosexuals:
"Are an 'aberration' that will cause the 'destruction of our civilization'; Would 'create a new morality in which homosexuality is not merely tolerated but is normalized and would branch out into sexual activity with babies, children of both sexes, and with animals; Are comparable to alcoholics; Become gay because of a history of childhood molestation; Are mostly drug users, unlike heterosexuals; Can change sexual orientation ('It seems it's acquired'); Are more prone to infidelity than heterosexuals; Could be induced to 'abstain or leave the country' if 'body parts are lopped off'; Have gained rights in cases 'based on emotionalism, the quivering lip and the teary eye' but 'thank God, [rights for gays] can be repealed'; Are 'repugnant' and 'detestable' and when gays have been tolerated in society, 'God providentially and in judgment wiped those civilizations off the face of the earth.'"

They also heard such assertions "flatly described as 'not true,'" the United Church of Canada decrying "fear tactics used by other denominations." They heard Saskatchewan's New Green Alliance saying same-sex marriage is "a question of fairness and dignity."

They listened as the head of the Canadian Union of Public Employees "debunked the Justice Minister's alternatives (i.e., civil unions, getting out of marriage, or maintaining the status quo) and outlined the fair and just reasons for ending marriage discrimination now." They heard the Canadian Labour Congress, representing 2.5 million workers, urging "the government to be socially and legally responsible by enacting same-sex marriage," saying that "religion should not dictate secular laws."

And, of course, they heard scores of gay and lesbian couples (some with quivering lip and teary eye) tell shocking tales of oppression. They heard from Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church: "The only solution for the members of our Church is to have their marriages recognized as equal to the marriages performed in any other Canadian church. ... For MCCT, there is no sacrament of registered domestic partnership."

Some MPs might have wondered: Is the state in the business of offering sacraments? But they endlessly heard there is no other way.

Other ways

Beyond conjugality
A federal commission tries to get us past the "gay marriage" impasse (& gets almost entirely ignored)

For later proposed federal options (all still locked in conjugality):

Not going beyond
The federal Justice Department asks for talk only on "Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions"

Among the options lately floated by the feds were getting the state entirely out of "marriage," leaving sacred rites to religion, and offering conjugal couples (married or not) formal recognition in law. Committee chair Andy Scott, bemoaning the "tendency to debate the issue as if there are only two options," noted that "in the middle there are options that I suspect you would find much more consensus on."

Fat chance. "The notion that the state would abandon the regulation of marriage and return marriage to the exclusive domain of religious faiths is," MCCT said, "unworkable and inappropriate" -- because "marriage brings certain legal consequences." (Talk about skewed logic, this brand circular, presuming as given precisely what's at issue: the legal status of marriage.) And registered partnerships, apart from being mere "marriage lite," are just too messy: all the provinces would have to agree. That might take a constitutional amendment! We'd be sunk again in Meech Lake! (Exactly the logic once deployed against nationwide medicare: health is provincial turf.)

The religious right also avidly scorned such middle-of-the road sops. They want to keep marriage state-blessed -- and keep the unblessed out. The Montreal Gazette reported on the roadshow's second-last stop: "There were those who were pro, those who were against, and absolutely no-one in between." Or, as MCCT-married Joe Varnell said on TV, it's a simple black & white issue: Gay Marriage? Yes or no?

Graphic persuasion

Equal Marriage
for Same-sex Couples

I got all those phrases quoted above from Joe. Or maybe his "bride" Kevin Bourassa (as their marriage license obliged; Joe got to be "groom"). All are from their website, Equal Marriage for Same Sex Couples. I might have found equally shocking assertions, and similar voices of public concern, on the websites of say, Focus on the Family or Real Women of Canada.

Maybe even similar graphics. Kev and Joe head their extensive coverage of the committee hearings with "Extended run for cruel joke" -- over a caricature straight out of a horror comic: a cartoon cad grinning wickedly from under his grim black hat, a red flower in the lapel of his big black trenchcoat. (A rose? He might be Pierre Trudeau. But no: that would be on the other side's websites.)

Xtra! said of these two opposing sides that they don't "even seem to speak the same language." But they do. The scripts may differ but the lingo, the style, the black & white sensibility -- good vs evil; noble heroes of simple common sense ever up against villainous duplicity -- are tellingly similar. As Andy Scott said: "This is an emotional issue and people come here with very strong feelings."

Scott was accused of letting feelings run wild. The Globe headed one story: "Hearings slammed as gay-bashing." He did chide some outbursts: when one witness objected to "sweeping stereotypical and bigoted statements" he cautioned her "to try to keep the language as moderate as we can." "With respect, Mr Scott," she replied, "immoderate statements elicit immoderate responses."

Sense? Try sentiment

Platitude: attitude
A look behind the language of sanctimony

Shame on you!
Claiming we're not all "just like everybody else" could get you branded a traitor

Immoderate statements and immoderate responses were, in fact, exactly what both sides in this slag-fest most deeply desired. They wanted the richly delicious buzz of self-righteousness that comes of being "shocked and appalled." They wanted "hatred and venom," "faith-based bigotry" and sheer stupidity on the one hand; horrid revelations of "aberration" leading to "the destruction of our civilization" on the other.

They wanted blood, wounds visibly inflicted -- so they could lick them in public: "See? See what they're like? See what they do to us?" There's nothing better than blatant gay bashing to stir liberal sympathies; nothing better that pervert attacks on the sacred family to rally the forces of fear. Shock is retailed to rouse sentiment, to overwhelm careful thought; to guilt hesitant bystanders, and shame doubtful "insiders," to simple passion for the sacred cause.

These contending sides wanted no thought beyond feelings, no pondering of options beyond their own fundamentalist answers, Religious Right or Gay Right, no possible future beyond a world framed by frantic paranoia. Or facile platitudes. They wanted, most of all, to keep public discourse on our relationships locked in the One True Frame: Gay Marriage. Yes. Or no. Nothing less. Nothing beyond.

And they got what they wanted -- with the help of media ever hungry for blood, casting complex social issues as simple-minded melodrama. Of course, what with a war on and maybe a plague too, this two-bit circus was just a sideshow.

That Xtra! reporter opined at the end, "it's unclear what the government will glean from these hearings." But it's all too clear: Nothing new. Or not much: this spectacle's few acts hinting at a more humane future were drowned out -- by a hallelujah chorus passionately belting out all those tired if time-hallowed tunes.




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April 2003 / Last revised: May 1, 2003
Rick Bébout © 2002 /