Historic Elections

Like a lot of other people, Tuesday was bittersweet for us. We got back from getting married in California in the afternoon. In a matter of hours, we were watching them call the election for Obama with Levi squished between the two of us in bed. The election went just as I predicted: Obama became our new president YAY!!!

But, Florida, Arizona, and California passed their propositions to ban gay marriage. And in Arkansas, gay people are banned from being foster or adoptive parents. I knew the same-sex bans were going to happen, but I am way more disappointed than I ever expected.

From the wall of the Humboldt County Courthouse in Eureka, CA on November 3, 2008:

“It is further dedicated to public service in the name of democracy to promote and maintain liberty and justice under law based on universal equality as the foundation of human dignity.”

Here we are on the steps of the courthouse after we got legally gay married, the day before Prop 8 passed. Our marriage is one of some 18,000 that are now in legal limbo. I wish we were still in California so we could march with everyone else. I know we have a long way to go here, but I feel like history is being made and it is pretty cool to be a part of it.

Address by Prime Minister Paul Martin on Bill C-38 (The Civil Marriage Act)

February 16, 2005
House of Commons, Canada

“I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law.

The Charter was enshrined to ensure that the rights of minorities are not subjected, are never subjected, to the will of the majority. The rights of Canadians who belong to a minority group must always be protected by virtue of their status as citizens, regardless of their numbers. These rights must never be left vulnerable to the impulses of the majority.

We embrace freedom and equality in theory, Mr. Speaker. We must also embrace them in fact.

Third, some have counseled the government to extend to gays and lesbians the right to “civil union.” This would give same-sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal, but not quite as equal as the rest of Canadians.

Mr. Speaker, the courts have clearly and consistently ruled that this option would offend the equality provisions of the Charter. For instance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal stated that, and I quote “Marriage is the only road to true equality for same-sex couples. Any other form of recognition of same-sex relationships …falls short of true equality.”

Put simply, we must always remember that “separate but equal” is not equal. What’s more, those who call for the establishment of civil unions fail to understand that the Government of Canada does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to do so. Only the provinces have that. Only the provinces could define such a regime – and they could define it in 10 different ways, and some jurisdictions might not bother to define it at all. There would be uncertainty. There would be confusion. There would certainly not be equality.

Fourth, some are urging the government to respond to the decisions of the courts by getting out of the marriage business altogether. That would mean no more civil weddings for any couples.

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?

My responsibility as Prime Minister, my duty to Canada and to Canadians, is to defend the Charter in its entirety. Not to pick and choose the rights that our laws shall protect and those that are to be ignored. Not to decree those who shall be equal and those who shall not. My duty is to protect the Charter, as some in this House will not.

Let us never forget that one of the reasons that Canada is such a vibrant nation, so diverse, so rich in the many cultures and races of the world, is that immigrants who come here – as was the case with the ancestors of many of us in this chamber – feel free and are free to practice their religion, follow their faith, live as they want to live. No homogenous system of beliefs is imposed on them.

When we as a nation protect minority rights, we are protecting our multicultural nature. We are reinforcing the Canada we value. We are saying, proudly and unflinchingly, that defending rights – not just those that happen to apply to us, not just that everyone approves of, but all fundamental rights – is at the very soul of what it means to be a Canadian.

This is a vital aspect of the values we hold dear and strive to pass on to others in the world who are embattled, who endure tyranny, whose freedoms are curtailed, whose rights are violated.

Why is the Charter so important, Mr. Speaker? We have only to look at our own history. Unfortunately, Canada’s story is one in which not everyone’s rights were protected under the law. We have not been free from discrimination, bias, unfairness. There have been blatant inequalities.

….

There are few nations whose citizens cannot look to Canada and see their own reflection. For generations, men and women and families from the four corners of the globe have made the decision to chose Canada to be their home. Many have come here seeking freedom — of thought, religion and belief. Seeking the freedom simply to be.

The people of Canada have worked hard to build a country that opens its doors to include all, regardless of their differences; a country that respects all, regardless of their differences; a country that demands equality for all, regardless of their differences.

If we do not step forward, then we step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Mr. Speaker, together as a nation, together as Canadians Let us step forward.”

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