[Crossposted at CultureKitchen]

As I write this, I’m watching the Canadian House of Commons’ final debate on bill C-38: The Civil Marriage Act, a law to extend marriage equality to all Canadians (currently, eight of ten provinces and one of three territories have established equal marriage rights).  This bill’s path to tonight’s final reading has been a bumpy one, from the Liberal’s surviving a no-confidence vote, to a bold strategy that caught the Tories off guard and passed the budget (keeping the Government from falling), to cutting off debate last night.  Cabinet member Joe Camuzzo resigned his cabinet position rather than follow Prime Minister Martin’s order for all members of the Cabinet to vote for C-38.

The passage of C-38 is not in doubt tonight, nor is passage in the Senate.  The votes exist for marriage equality.  
I’m not going to liveblog this…don’t know enough about the Canadian Parliament or it’s members (couldn’t recognize Stephen Harper if he walked up and introduced himself), the minutiae of Canadian law or the Charter (I do know enough, though, that I was able to shock a Canadian with my accurate interpretation of the “Notwithstanding Clause”…not so much that I had a great analysis, but that an American had heard of it and could give a somewhat concise look at how it related to the topic).  Instead, if you read on, I’m gonna ask a question.

Sue Barnes just said: “We cannot distribute justice or fairness on the basis of numbers.”

Here’s what Prime Minister Paul Martin said at the introduction of C-38:

There is one question that demands an answer – a straight answer – from those who would seek to lead this nation and its people. It is a simple question: Will you use the notwithstanding clause to overturn the definition of civil marriage and deny to Canadians a right guaranteed under the Charter?

This question does not demand rhetoric. It demands clarity. There are only two legitimate answers – yes or no. Not the demagoguery we have heard, not the dodging, the flawed reasoning, the false options. Just yes or no.

 Will you take away a right as guaranteed under the Charter? I, for one, will answer that question, Mr. Speaker. I will answer it clearly. I will say no.

The notwithstanding clause is part of the Charter of Rights. But there’s a reason that no prime minister has ever used it. For a prime minister to use the powers of his office to explicitly deny rather than affirm a right enshrined under the Charter would serve as a signal to all minorities that no longer can they look to the nation’s leader and to the nation’s Constitution for protection, for security, for the guarantee of their freedoms. We would risk becoming a country in which the defence of rights is weighed, calculated and debated based on electoral or other considerations.

That would set us back decades as a nation. It would be wrong for the minorities of this country. It would be wrong for Canada.

The Charter is a living document, the heartbeat of our Constitution. It is also a proclamation. It declares that as Canadians, we live under a progressive and inclusive set of fundamental beliefs about the value of the individual. It declares that we all are lessened when any one of us is denied a fundamental right.

We cannot exalt the Charter as a fundamental aspect of our national character and then use the notwithstanding clause to reject the protections that it would extend. Our rights must be eternal, not subject to political whim.

To those who value the Charter yet oppose the protection of rights for same-sex couples, I ask you: If a prime minister and a national government are willing to take away the rights of one group, what is to say they will stop at that? If the Charter is not there today to protect the rights of one minority, then how can we as a nation of minorities ever hope, ever believe, ever trust that it will be there to protect us tomorrow?

Change the context.  Imagine this debate in Congress, or look back at debate over the FMA last year.  What (straight) American politician can we imagine making these same statements, and then taking action to put them into practice?

Update [2005-6-28 18:7:59 by MAJeff]: Watching the vote is kinda cool…The first vote was basically an amendment to send the bill back to committee for a full reconsideration…it lost 127-158

Update [2005-6-28 18:7:59 by MAJeff]: On to the final vote: C-38 passes 158-133.

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