The Canadian Parliament voted 158-133 to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the nation on Tuesday night, making a courageous and powerful statement in support of equality. The vote will be rubber stamped by the Canadian senate in July.
Engineered by the governing Liberal party, in some ways the vote will not have a major impact on the life of gay and lesbian Canadians. Since June 2003, Canadians have been winning the right to marry through court decisions in province after province. At this stage, the only parts of the country where marriage laws have not been expanded are Alberta, the Northern Territories, Prince Edward Island, and Nunavut. Just last Thursday, a court in New Brunswick added the coastal province to the list of Canadian jurisdictions where same-sex marriages were conducted and recognized, and with the possible exception of Alberta, the other areas were likely to follow the trend.
But by putting the federal government and the peopleâ€™s elected representatives behind the principle of equal marriage rights, Canada is putting an end to a divisive two years and moving forward with the clear understanding that gay and lesbian citizens have an absolute claim on full citizenship.
Two years ago, the high court of Ontario, Canadaâ€™s most populous province, legalized same-sex marriage from one day to the next. Unlike two previous courts, where rulings in favor of same-sex marriage had been stayed to give the government time to act, Ontarioâ€™s justices decided that enough was enough. On the day of the decision, the two main plaintiffs got married. Others followed, and with no residency requirement, Americans flocked across the borders as well.
After a quick assessment, the government of Jean Chretien determined that the question of same-sex marriage demanded direct answer, and could not be settled by a civil union compromise. Chretien decided to accept the ruling of the Ontario court, to cease the governmentâ€™s opposition to same-sex marriage cases in other areas, and to draft legislation legalizing marriage throughout the country. He also asked the Canadian Supreme Court to advise the government on several issues; mainly whether the definition of marriage was under the control of the federal government, and whether the government had the constitutional right to open marriage to same-sex couples.
When Paul Martin succeeded Chretien as Prime Minister in early 2004, he delayed the introduction of a marriage bill, and added another question to the Supreme Court docket, effectively postponing the marriage question for many more months. It was not until late last year that the high court returned its answers, not surprisingly giving the federal government the right to define marriage to include same-sex couples.
Although gay activists had at times questioned Martinâ€™s commitment to marriage rights, the Prime Minister did not back down, putting political capital and strategy into holding a vote before Parliament disbanded for the summer. Martin and company simultaneously managed to avoid a vote of no confidence, which could have derailed the marriage bill had the Liberals lost their hold on power. Earlier this year, some polls suggested the Conservative party had taken a popular lead, although those same polls showed Canadians were not in the mood for another national vote less than a year after Parliamentary elections in 2004.
â€śThis is about the Charter of Rights,â€ť Martin told the Parliament on Tuesday. â€śWe are a nation of minorities. And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you donâ€™t cherry pick rights. A right is a right and that is what this vote tonight is all about.â€ť Martin gave the Liberal party free rein to vote their conscience, with the exception of his cabinet members who were ordered to vote the party line. One resigned.
Establishment Clause Survives For Now
Defenders of the wall between church and state came out more or less on top after the Supreme Courtâ€™s fractured rulings on the Ten Commandments. Perhaps one of the clearest indications of who â€śwonâ€ť the split decisions was the reaction of Focus on the Familyâ€™s James Dobson, who called the Courtâ€™s rulings â€śdeeply troubling.â€ť
Alan Sears, head of the Alliance Defense Fund, warned that with one more liberal justice on the United States Supreme Court, â€śwe could see all displays of our historic documents literally sandblasted, literally removed from every public building in America.â€ť Quoted by a conservative newsletter, it was not clear what Sears was talking about, but he was evidently disturbed by the decisions.
Ruling in two separate cases on Monday, a 5-4 majority gave the thumbs up to a Decalogue monument that has been sitting on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol for 44 years. Then, with Justice Stephen Breyer swinging to the other side, a different 5-4 court told two Kentucky courthouses to remove displays that included framed copies of the Ten Commandments, along with a number of other historical items, such as the Star Spangled Banner and the Declaration of Independence.
The majority in the first case ruled that the Texas monument was not a government endorsement of any particular religion. But by contrast, Breyer found that the Kentucky displays had had their roots in a religious instinct that violated the First Amendment. Nor did the after-the-fact addition of the Declaration of Independence and other secular items make the displays permissible.
Joining Breyer in the Texas majority were Chief Justice Rehnquist, as well as Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Kennedy. Joining him in the Kentucky majority, were Justices Souter, Stevens, Ginsburg and Oâ€™Connor. Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote the main opinion in the Texas case, while Justice Souter wrote for the majority in the Kentucky opinon. But in total, some ten different opinions were written in dissent and concurrence on both cases. â€śI didnâ€™t know we had that many people on our court,â€ť quipped Rehnquist at Mondayâ€™s session.
The most newsworthy aspect of the rulings were the fact that they left intact a controversial test that has been used since 1971 to determine whether or not the government is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Clause, â€śCongress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,â€ť is what prevents the government from forcing school children to recite the Lordâ€™s Prayer, or what keeps the Alabama Chief Justice from installing a two-ton monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of his main courthouse. Given that inconsequential deism such as the motto â€śIn God We Trust,â€ť has been deemed acceptable, how do we decide where the middle ground might lie? For now, the â€śLemonâ€ť test is the answer.
Under the three-pronged test, a public activity violates the Constitution if it lacks a secular purpose, if it advances or inhibits a religion, or if it â€śfosters an excessive entanglementâ€ť with religion. Critics donâ€™t believe courts are in a position to guess whether or not a â€śsecular purposeâ€ť lies at the root of a state action, and indeed, whoâ€™s to say that the next courthouse display, Declaration of Independence and all, wonâ€™t pass muster before some other court. Likewise, although Justice Breyer thought the Texas monument was just one element in a random collection of statues and plaques that had sat around without bothering anyone for decades, why wouldnâ€™t another judge rule that the public placement of one of these monuments was based on an unconstitutional desire to spread Christian doctrine?
Instead of settling these questions, the rulings have probably exacerbated the confusion, and may lead to more rather than less litigation. A day after the opinions were handed down, the conservative groups Faith and Action, and the Christian Defense Coalition vowed to erect monuments like the one in Texas all over the country in order to put pressure on the law.
Maine Gay Rights Bill May Hit November Ballot
In Maine, anti-gay groups have submitted 57,000 names as part of a drive to repeal the latest gay rights bill. The Blueberry State has twice passed wide-ranging gay rights bills, and twice the citizens have repealed those laws. In the first instance, a special election held in the middle of February 1998, attracted more conservatives than progressives to the polls, analysts said. In response, the Maine legislature passed another anti-discrimination law, and deliberately sent it to be ratified by the voters in the high turnout election of November, 2000. Lawmakers thought they were protecting the law from a future repeal by subjecting it to a vote, but astonishingly, the liberal state electorate voted it down by a fraction of a fraction of a percent. This year, the legislature tried once more, sending a gay rights bill through the governorâ€™s desk and into law. And once again, Maine voters will have the final word, assuming that the signatures do indeed qualify for this yearâ€™s November ballot.
Gay leaders and community allies say they will fight hard. â€śMaine has zero tolerance for discrimination,â€ť said Jesse Connolly of Maine Wonâ€™t Discriminate, adding that the community â€śis ready to win.â€ť Complicating the issue is the fact that anti-gay campaigners plan to present the vote as a showdown, not on gay rights, but on same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, a bill to establish civil unions has gone back into a senate committee for some further analysis, but is expected to return for a vote on the senate floor this week. The bill has been amended to ban sexual orientation discrimination, along with creating marriage-lite for gay and lesbian couples. Although it is expected to pass the senate, its fate in the GOP-controlled house is uncertain.
Three Cheers For Spain
In contrast to the news from Canada this week, Spainâ€™s senate voted against same-sex marriage. But apparently the senate doesnâ€™t matter, and the measure is expected (somehow) to win â€śfinal approvalâ€ť in the house this week.
If you donâ€™t believe me, hereâ€™s what Reuters wrote in a recent dispatch: â€śThe legislation remains likely to be made law despite outcry from Catholics.â€ť (Half a million or so marched around Madrid last week manifesting the aforementioned disapproval.) â€śThe bill will return to the lower house of parliament next week, where it is expected to comfortably win final approval.â€ť Since I previously read somewhere else that the senate vote was â€śsymbolic,â€ť I conclude that the bill is fine and en route to passage.
Actually, it turns out that the lower house will simply overrule the senate through its final vote as this issue goes to press on Thursday. However, watch for another massive demonstration by those opposed to marriage rights, who hope to flood Madrid again with a million people or more.
One Cheer For Slovenia
In other international news, the Slovenian parliament has passed some kind of half-baked gay couples plan that was considered woefully inadequate. Liberal lawmakers and other gay allies walked out of the vote, while gay leaders called it discriminatory. I think that the former Yugoslavian state is now part of the European Union, and I was under the impression that minimal civil rights policies are mandatory for all EU members. But here again, as is so often the case with arcane developments from far away places, Iâ€™m really not sure.
Bad Episcopalians. No Council Seat.
In yet another complicated and vaguely-understood overseas GLBT development, it seems as if the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada have dodged a bullet after a meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council. Both the U.S. and Canadian churches had previously agreed not to participate for now in the Consultative Council, which (might be) the main vehicle for advancing the business of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The U.S. of course, is being sidelined for having elected a gay bishop, while the Canadians drew disfavor by conducting same-sex weddings.
With the North Americans out of the meeting, the ant-gay factions of the Communion tried to banish them from all church business. Instead, they were only temporarily barred from two other committees, which didnâ€™t matter that much since neither the Americans or the Canadians had a seat on those committees to begin with. Further, the Council put its stamp of approval on a â€ślistening process,â€ť which seems like Anglican-speak for seeing if we all canâ€™t get along like Rodney King used to say. The Consultative Council next meets in 2008, by which time Iâ€™m sure weâ€™ll all be friends again.
You Can Take The Tampa Out Of Pride, But You Canâ€™t Take The Pride Out Of Tampa
Returning to our homeland, the county commission of Tampaâ€™s Hillsborough County got fed up with the whole gay pride thing, and passed a policy prohibiting the county from â€śacknowledging, promoting, or participatingâ€ť in gay pride events in the future. The slap in the face came at the instigation of Commissioner Ronda Storms, who was outraged by a pride display in the local library that included fliers that according to Storms â€śreferred children to youth groups outside Hillsborough County to explore their sexuality.â€ť
The ordinance did not stop the county from issuing a permit for a pride parade that ends at a county-owned park. I would assume that although the council has the right to manifest its hostility, it cannot withhold equal treatment under the law, right? Whatever. We all just held a vote and decided that the international GLBT community will, from hereon in, avoid â€śacknowledging, promoting or participatingâ€ť in any activities that redound to the benefit of Tampa or Hillsborough County.
Hey, girls. I got two press releases this week about vagina lifts, which I gather are all the rage. â€śWhy the recent demand for perfection in the most intimate of areas?â€ť asks one press release. â€śThe reasons are as varied as the women who ask for the procedures. Desiring highest levels of sexual gratification, a more aesthetically pleasing look, the ability to exercise without discomfort and the ability to wear all kinds of clothing are the most common reasons.â€ť
My favorite reason is number four, â€śthe ability to wear all kinds of clothing.â€ť What kinds of clothing would you have to avoid because of an ugly vagina? Mirrored chaps? Seriously, what? I hate it when people say or write things that make no sense whatsoever. Such people should be sent away, never to return. Hah!
Oh. I just read more and discovered that an enlarged or irregular labia that can have a â€śprotuberant and abnormal appearance that can be bothersome and distressful.â€ť So thatâ€™s what theyâ€™re referring to. The dreaded camel toe. You can either sign up for a $4,500 labiaplasty, or you can toss the stretch pants. By the way. You must check out cameltoe.org if you have nothing better to do. Hell, I just spent 20 minutes on this site even though this column is roughly one hour past deadline.
Moving along, George Bush has named a gay man to the position of director general of the United States and Foreign Commercial Service, a sub-cabinet post with responsibilities that do not immediately leap to mind, although weâ€™re sure they are most onerous. Israel Hernandez is 35, and has worked for Bush since he was knee high to a Texas governor. According to the New York Daily News, Hernandez told Bush he was gay in the last several months, and did not return phone calls. The president reportedly called him â€śAltoid Boy,â€ť in reference to his job of supplying Bush with mints on the 1994 gubernatorial campaign trail.
Penguin Family Values
And read up, everyone! Gay penguins are back in the news, this time as the subject of a new book called And Tango Makes Three, inspired by the real life story of Central Park Zoo penguins, Roy and Silo. Like their counterparts in many other zoos all over the world, Roy and Silo were a devoted couple who tried to hatch a rock. One year, their keeper found a fertilized egg and gave it to them. The love birds took care of it, raised the chick, and lived happily ever after. Guess its name must have been Tango, donâ€™t you think? At any rate, the book was written by Columbia professor Justin Richardson and his partner, playwright Peter Parnell. The illustrator was Henry Cole, and itâ€™s being published by Simon & Schusterâ€™s childrenâ€™s division.
I imagine that And Tango Makes Three has not yet reached the libraries of the middle schools of the plains states, where it will someday smash headlong into the outsized outrage of a small townâ€™s small minds.
The whole story has reminded me of the transgendered penguin, Turnip, who lives outside of a casino in Las Vegas with a pair of gay flamingos named Bubblegum and Pink Floyd. Iâ€™m sad now, because I had fantasized about adopting Turnip, putting him in my tub and training him to become a butler of sorts. More of a friend, really. I guess â€śsadâ€ť isnâ€™t the word. Itâ€™s that nostalgia for something that never was, that never could have been. Oh, for heavenâ€™s sake. Whatâ€™s the matter with me!