By Paul Tuns
After months of speculation, Pat O’Brien (Lib, London-Fanshawe, Ont.) put his career on the line and left the Liberal party on June 6, saying he strenuously opposed Prime Minister Paul Martin’s attempt to quickly foist a new definition of marriage upon the country.
In its rush to quickly pass C-38 before a summer recess, the ad hoc committee studying C-38, the government’s same-sex “marriage” bill, was sitting four times a week, four hours a day. It is typical for committees to meet twice a week for two hours each day. Several individuals invited to speak before the committee told The Interim that the condensed schedule did not give them adequate time to prepare for their presentations. The government justified the almost-unprecedented haste with which the committee acted by saying it was simply doing what Canadians elected it to do.
But O’Brien didn’t buy that. He chose to sit as an independent, because he felt that Martin broke a promise to have fair hearings on the gay “marriage” bill.
O’Brien’s switch was compared, by some, to the move from the Tories to the Liberal party (and from the opposition to the cabinet) just two weeks earlier by Belinda Stronach. But unlike Stronach, who gained greater power, prestige and pay when she was named the new human resources minister, O’Brien was motivated by principle – a principle that could end up costing him his political career.
(It is notable that the media storyline when Stronach crossed the floor was that the development reflected poorly on Stephen Harper’s leadership of the Conservative party, but no reporter, columnist or editorialist connected O’Brien’s departure from the Liberals with Martin’s leadership.)
O’Brien said, “My objective is not to defeat the government, but to slow down and ultimately defeat bill C-38.” But even with that, O’Brien would not rule out voting against the government on a confidence vote. (Still, on June 21, O’Brien voted against a budget bill, expressing his lack of confidence in the government.)
In mid-week, if media reports were to be trusted, the Liberal and Conservative leaderships were negotiating about stalling a final vote on C-38 until sometime this fall, but neither side would confirm whether a deal was made or even at what level such talks were taking place. The NDP, sources told The Interim, made passage of the C-38 before the summer recess a part of its deal to support the government’s budget. As of press time, it was unclear whether there would be a vote before the House recessed for the summer on June 23. The Liberal-dominated Senate said it would sit as long as necessary over the summer to pass the bill.
C-38 moved one step closer to becoming law when the committee examining the bill approved it on June 16.
Privately, some opponents of gay “marriage” hope that a development five days before that will force a second sober look at the legislation. On June 12, the Ottawa Citizen reported that gay activist Kevin Bourassa vowed to go after the charitable tax status of any church opposed to homosexual “marriage,” saying that “promoting bigotry” should not be subsidized by taxpayers. Bourassa, one of the first gays to get “married” in Canada, said: “If you are at the public trough, if you are collecting taxpayers’ money, you should be following taxpayers’ laws. And that means adhering to the Charter … We have no problem with the Catholic church or any other faith group promoting bigotry. We have a problem with the Canadian government funding that bigotry.”
The Calgary Herald was surprised that activists would tip their hand so soon. In an editorial, it said, “One might suppose gay ‘marriage’ extremists would wait for the Liberals’ contentious same-sex legislation to pass before uttering triumphalist comments about the next round in their battle with the churches.” Furthermore, as both the Herald editorial and blogger Kathy Shaidle (www.relapsedcatholic.com) noted, it is strange to view a tax exemption as a government handout.
The government said the rights of churches are protected in the legislation, but one must wonder about such guarantees. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has maintained since January that churches would have their religious rights protected and that none would be forced to solemnize same-sex “marriages.” But in June, to ensure that other Liberal backbenchers opposed to redefining marriage would not join O’Brien’s exodus from the party, Martin and Cotler were vowing to strengthen the guarantees. One pro-marriage lobbyist told The Interim, “Why did they have to strengthen religious protection when the minister had already said churches would not be forced into performing gay marriages?”
But no sooner had Martin and Cotler announced new protections than the justice minister had to admit to the national media that it was up to provinces, and not the federal government, to provide such protections. Marriage commissioners have already been forced to resign in B.C., Manitoba, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan after they were told they could not refuse to officiate over same-sex “weddings.”