Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 6, 2006
Study marriage before the vote
Set up a comission to study marriage before legislation is drafted, advise authorities
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
Ever since the Conservatives won a minority government, advocates have been counting votes and plotting strategy on a promised free vote to restore the traditional definition of marriage.
But McGill professor Douglas Farrow says hold on. He wants Prime Minister-designate Stephen Harper to set up an independent commission to study all the implications of same-sex marriage before tabling legislation.
That means studying the state of marriage in Canada, the impact of legislation changes on children, and the effect on democracy when the state replaces the biological family with a social construct by exchanging "mother" and "father" with the term "legal parent."
Farrow, who co-edited Divorcing Marriage: Unveiling the Dangers in Canada's New Social Experiment, says he hopes no debate will take place in the House of Commons until qualified independent experts have examined the institution of marriage.
"It would be silly to open the issue again without presenting new facts," he said in a phone interview Jan. 30 from Montreal. "If anyone is calling for an instantaneous vote, they're crazy."
He described the previous debate on marriage as "manipulated," and as an "ideological show trial." He said MPs were falsely persuaded that same-sex marriage would cause no harm to children or society.
He said the only issue that seems to have been studied is polygamy.
When Harper and his new cabinet are sworn in Feb. 6, marriage will not be on the top of his priority list, however.
"I've simply said that we'll be doing it in the life of the Parliament. I would prefer to do it sooner rather than later, but not immediately," he told journalists Jan. 26.
Farrow says that holding a vote without the facts would be "irresponsible" and would be tantamount to treating marriage like a "political football."
No to a free vote
He also points out a free vote on whether the issue should be reopened is unlikely to pass.
If they do so, the Conservatives will have "deceived a large number of Canadians who supported them in part for this reason," he said. "They, unlike the Liberals, were going to treat this as a serious issue."
Former Liberal MP Pat O'Brien, who has taken a position as executive director of Vote Marriage Canada, says about 45 per cent of the new MPs favour traditional marriage.
"Now, we believe the number will be higher when we have an opportunity to try and converse with some of the other MPs," he told the Jan. 27 Toronto Star.
"It's not a slam dunk," said Institute for Canadian Values executive director Joseph Ben-Ami in a Jan. 27 phone interview from Ottawa. "I'd rather we take our time and act with wisdom and ensure that we have all our ducks in order."
"The object here is to win the vote, not simply to have a vote on it," he said. "I'd rather see the government take its time before introducing the legislation, so that all parties have the opportunity to put their cases, particularly to new MPs and take it from there."
Ben-Ami points out that the Conservative Party is committed not just to a free vote, but to legislation, according to a resolution passed in its March 2005 policy convention.
"We're not asking him to introduce it quickly," he said, pointing out they don't want to "rush a bad piece of legislation."
Though Farrow and Ben-Ami want to put off a vote, they both realize putting it off for too long also has a downside.
The longer same-sex marriage bill C-38 remains in effect, the more entrenched the legislation will become.
Some within the Conservative Party would like to see Harper get the vote over so the issue does not hang like an albatross around his neck, giving ammunition to forces that paint him as a dangerous social conservative.
Farrow says that a lost vote should be treated the way abolitionists dealt with slavery. They kept bringing back legislation until they won.
Time to move on
However, many, including social conservatives, have said that once a free vote has taken place, they will live with the decision and move on.
Farrow points out that since between 1999 and 2006, Canada has done a 180-degree turn on marriage, led by the courts, with no in-depth study of the implications.
He noted that one of the judges responsible for one of the initial Halpern decisions, Ontario Justice Robert Blair, wrote "The courts are not the best equipped to conduct such a balancing exercise, in my opinion.
"This is not an incremental change in the law. It is a profound change."