On Nov. 25, the subcommittee to the committee on procedure and House affairs deemed New Brunswick Conservative MP Rob Moore’s private member’s bill on marriage non-votable. Moore’s C-268 sought to reaffirm the definition of marriage exclusively as the union of one man and one woman. Without giving reasons or without the release of an official vote, the subcommittee, which meets in camera, said that C-268 was unconstitutional. Funny, though, because even the Supreme Court, which released its reference decision on this very issue, did not rule that the one-man, one-woman definition of marriage was unconstitutional, even though that was one of the specific questions asked by the Liberal government. As The Western Standard’s Andrea Mrozek sardonically noted, “So how is it that some subcommittee can make a constitutional call when the highest court in the land won’t?”
The scuttlebutt around Ottawa, when C-268 was ruled non-votable, was that the Liberals were in no hurry to put the issue before Parliament. Yet, on the eve of the Supreme Court decision, a decision released just two weeks later, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler announced that whatever the court said, the government would legislate same-sex “marriage” first thing in the new year. Days after the ruling, Cotler said he wanted the issue dealt with swiftly.
Why the rush? Why the change of heart to have the issue dealt with sooner, rather than after careful deliberation.
Might it be that Paul Martin’s government needs the cover of a Supreme Court decision, even a non-binding one such as the one rendered in the reference case, to appear to be acting under the orders of the highest court in the land? Might Martin and Cotler (falsely) claim that the court has ruled Parliament must act, or that a failure to do so would be a violation of homosexuals’ Charter rights?
Are we being too cynical?
One Liberal MP who talked to The Interim last year before the Dec. 9 decision said that the Supreme Court ruling would lead a dozen or more Liberal MPs who have traditionally supported marriage to change their mind. Indeed, House Leader Tony Valeri, the Hamilton-area MP who defeated Sheila Copps in a nasty fight for the Liberal nomination in Hamilton East – Stoney Creek, campaigned in favour of traditional marriage in June 2004. But after the Dec. 9 decision, Valeri said he had no choice but to support the redefinition of marriage by Martin and Cotler, because the courts have mandated it. Never mind that the Supreme Court did no such thing; its ruling said that Parliament should act on this, rather than use the courts to deal with politically volatile social issues. And never mind that Valeri, as a member of Martin’s cabinet, has been ordered to vote for the government’s bill. Clearly, the prediction that the court’s decision would give Liberals cover to vote for this assault on marriage has come true. How many other Tony Valeris are there in the Liberal caucus?
Just before the House resumed in late January, Justice Minister Cotler seemed to back off from his announced desire to ram through same-sex “marriage.” He said the legislation would be introduced in February, but that it could take as long as five months to pass. He and Martin may have underestimated the public’s opposition to redefinition. They may not have wanted to wait, but feel they must. You see, five months’ debate before the vote would bring us to June, a full year since the last federal election and the minimum time that has to pass before federal funding of political parties kicks in. If the Liberal minority government were to fall before June because its attempt to redefine marriage failed, it would face the electorate without much money in its coffers. Wait till June and lose, and it could reap the rewards of federal subsidies. This may be a crass political calculation on its part, but it is also a sign of remarkable weakness. It is the clearest signal to Canadians that ultimately, they have the power to sway MPs so that marriage is defended in Parliament. It would be a pity if pro-marriage Canadians did not take advantage of this opening.