I hope youâve not forgotten about the Canadian election coming up on Monday. Conservatives surged passed the centrist Liberal Party in polling in the last several weeks, but the latest polls suggest the Liberals may be closing the ten-point gap. If they donât succeed, the nasty Stephen Harper will replace Paul Martin as Prime Minister, although Harper will not govern with a majority. As I write on Wednesday, the Conservatives stand at 37 percent, Liberals at 27, New Democrats at 18 and the Bloc Quebecois at 11.
Why do we care? Because Harper has insanely pledged to hold another vote on same-sex marriage in Parliament, despite the fact that most of the top provincial courts have legalized gay unions based on Canadian law. Those rulings, beginning with Ontario in June 2003, led the Liberal government to bring the issue to Parliament in the first place, reasoning that the policy on gay marriage should be a) national rather than patchwork, and b) confirmed by legislators. Indeed, same-sex marriage won a close vote in the chamber last year, bringing equality to remote places like Nunavit and Alberta, where courts had yet to impose it.
Harperâs plan has reportedly triggered panic marriages, as procrastinating gay couples hurry to the altar in fear that their rights will be reversed by a new group of lawmakers. But Parliament cannot contravene the will of the courts any more than our Congress can strike the marriage laws of Massachusetts in a simple vote. What it can do is sow confusion and send the issue to a definitive ruling by the Canadian Supreme Court.
Which is correct?Â âSow confusionâ or âsew confusion?â Just checked. My first instinct was right. And sow it goes. But Iâm not quite finished with Canada. The Canadian high court has already ruled on three related points. First, the justices said there was nothing unconstitutional about legalizing same-sex marriage. Second, they ruled that religious leaders could not be forced to conduct such a marriage if it conflicted with their faith. And I canât quite recall the third question. Oh, yes. The justices said that the federal government had the authority to legalize same-sex marriage throughout the country.
However, for whatever reason, the high court dodged the central question of whether same-sex marriage was constitutionally required, a question which eight provincial courts have answered in the affirmative. It is virtually certain that, if pressed, the Canadian Supreme Court would agree. But they werenât âpressed,â they were simply âaskedâ by the Martin administration. So the bottom line is that Harperâs vote, if successful, would send the entire country into a weird kind of limbo, where marriage would remain legal in nearly every province pending a judicial review, which would reinstate marriage equality throughout the country. Why do this? Did I mention he was nasty and insane?
Oh, nasty is too harsh a word. I withdraw it. Hereâs a letter to Harper from about a hundred Canadian constitutional law experts: âIt appears to be your intention to pass a law that you know is almost certainly unconstitutional and then leave it to the courts to clean up the mess,â they wrote. âThis would be untenable and irresponsible and we call on you to take a more responsible approach, namely to refer your proposed legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada.â
Whoâs Afraid of Virginia?
I didnât intend to ramble on to this degree, but itâs too late now. Youâve already read it (I trust). By the way, I just finished reviewing the status of anti-marriage amendments in all 50 states, and I created a list for myself. This satisfying project consumed several hours of my âworkâ day yesterday, giving me the sensation of having accomplished something without actually producing any hard copy. I managed to cover the whole country by creating a list category called âmystery,â which encompasses eight states that I didnât pursue with much gusto. All in all, a fine spurt of professional energy which will inform my coverage of things like, the Virginia House of Delegates vote in favor of an amendment last Monday.
I put Virginia in the âLikely 2006â section, along with Wisconsin, since lawmakers in both states are almost guaranteed to send an amendment to the fall ballot. The Virginia senate and the Wisconsin house will shortly put the finishing touches on the process, at which point I will downgrade them to the âon ballot 2006â section along with Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina and South Dakota. (Alabama votes in June. Wonder how that election will turn out?)
The year is young, so we can expect other states to move through the categories as time goes by. But two imminent legal decisions could blow the top off the boiling pot. The Washington marriage case is one, of course. And the other is the ruling out of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, where justices are considering whether restrictions on non-resident gay marriages are constitutional. A victory in either case could send American couples to the airports in droves, probably triggering yet another so-called backlash.
Part of me wonders whether, or when, the ongoing backlash will play itself out. When does the American political center stop listening to the sing-song mantra of âactivist courts,â and start wondering whether the courts are recognizing a legitimate constitutional right? Oh, donât answer that. Let me add that the Chief Justice of the Washington Supreme Court said he thought the Washington marriage ruling would be released within 60 days. I assume that means that it will be announced within a month, because otherwise he wouldnât have made any prediction at all, right?
Whatâs Up, Doc?
Itâs one of those weeks when the news is all serious. Good bills pass in New Jersey and advance in California. Domestic partner rights proceed in the District of Columbia, but will no doubt be stricken by Congress in some DC appropriations bill down the road. The Salt Lake City council still trying to mess with Mayor Andersonâs benefits program. Plans afoot in Colorado to put a domestic partner measure on the 2006 ballot in an attempt to go proactive.
The most amusing thing I can come up with is an item called âRabbit,â which involves some experiment that combines human and bunny stem cells. The research, out of Kings College in London, alarmed the genetics experts over at Focus on the Family.
âMy question is what will they create?â asked Josephine Quintavalle, who is inexplicably billed as the Director of Comment on Reproductive Ethics. âIn order to obtain stem cells, they surely have to go through the blastocyst stage. They have to create a âsomethingâ from which to derive the new cells. What is that something?â
I was just about to ridicule Josephineâs baseless concerns, when I thought twice about it.
Â see Kings College professor Chris Shaw working late. The experiment is coming along splendidly. Heâs called his wife to tell her he wonât be home for dinner. This is too important. A blastocyst has emerged!
Stiffling a yawn of exhaustion, Shaw leans back from the microscope. Was it his imagination, or was that a movement in the darkened umbra beyond the glow of the desk lamp? Damn that Feathersmith! The eccentric lab assistant has brought his tabby cat to work again and forgotten to bring the pet home.
âToby!â Shaw approaches the skittish animal, who darts away. Then suddenly, the cat scampers onto the counter and sends the microscope with its precious sample crashing to the ground. Before Shaw can react, Toby closely examines the debris and jumps out of an open window into the night.
As weeks go by, the disconsolate scientist tries to reconstruct his research. Feathersmith is as useless as ever. More so because Toby has distressingly vanished. One night, Feathersmith is awakened by a horrifying caterwaul. He shuffles to the back door, and Toby enters, bedraggled and somehow changed.
The following night, Feathersmith senses a presence in the lonely cottage. Something is there. But what is that something? Shifting restlessly in bed, Feathersmith opens his eyes. Looming on the ceiling, he encounters a grotesque shadow, half man, half beast, with monstrous ears. He cries out in terror, but the creature is not deterred. Out of its whiskered mouth comes a deep gargling soundâ- the last sound Feathersmith will ever hear.
God help us, was it laughing?
Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid
Hey, I know it seems farfetched. But the point is, we canât be too careful. Speaking of pregnancy, some fool in the Virginia House of Delegates named Robert Marshall has filed a bill that would ban doctors from providing artificial insemination or in vitro fertilization to unmarried women, a measure that presumably will not advance even in the reactionary climate of the aforementioned Virginia legislature. Marshallâs effort is not the first of its ilk. I believe a woman in the Indiana house tried the same stunt before withdrawing the idea under pressure. Iâll check.
Close enough. State senator Patricia Miller of Indianapolis offered up a similar proposal before the Health Finance Commission last October, but dropped it, calling it âmore complex than anticipated.âÂ And these people call themselves âpro life?â Apparently their respect for life stops with the child of gay parents and the mutant rabbit.
Why do they call it the âHouse of Delegatesâ anyway? Must be some colonial thing, like Maryland. It sounds ominous for some reason. It sounds as if they meet at night in a dark ornate hall with pillars. Vincent Price presides over the assemblage with a massive gavel. Sometimes, a delegate goes missing.
Waiting For Sudoku
Now what? By rights I should revisit some of the developments skimmed over earlier in this column. Alternatively, I can have a glass of cheap Champagne and play online Sudoku puzzles until my five oâclock deadline. Hmmm. What shall it be? (Cue: Theme from âFinal Jeopardy.â)
OK, OK. The New Jersey bills, signed by outgoing governor Richard Codey last week, expanded the limited rights available under the statewide domestic partner registry to include automatic inheritance and other death benefits, in part as a response to two high profile examples of the registryâs weakness. In one of those cases, a woman was left without legal title to her home, car and bank account, after her registered partner died suddenly without a will. In the other, a lesbian police officer with only a short time to live asked the local government of Ocean County to let her assign her pension to her partner. The county said noâa decision that highlighted the fact that attaching benefits to the domestic partner registry is optional, not required, for New Jersey counties.
That was the major story in the skimmed list, and the one I felt particularly guilty about. Now I feel better. I should add that the vote on the domestic partner expansions was impressive; the state senate passed them unanimously, while the house margin was 67-6. And next month, New Jerseyâs high court will hear oral arguments in the long running marriage equality case that has finally reached the top docket. With luck, the whole concept of domestic partner rights in New Jersey will be an anachronism by the end of the year.
Did I ever tell you that I went to college with Stone Phillips? He played Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls one year, and (of course) sang âLuck be a lady tonightâ which popped into my head after I wrote the last sentence of the last paragraph. He was also our star quarterback, and was very very handsome. Lately, Stoneâs not looking too good if you ask my opinion. Looks like Stoneâs had one too many extreme makeovers. But I digress.