Three and a half years ago, same-sex “marriage” was not an issue. Marriage was understood to be the union of one man and one woman and the possibility of its redefinition was not even on the political radar screen. When marriage became an issue in 2003 (that is, when three Ontario judges decided to strike down what may be the oldest legal precedent in existence), social conservatives argued that marriage was not an issue for debate, that it was a settled matter and that to bring up the issue would be unnecessary and, indeed, divisive. It is quite surprising to hear these same arguments today and, more surprising still, is to hear them from those on the other side of the issue.
Recently, a predictable chorus of voices has been criticizing the Harper government for committing to its campaign promise to have a real debate about marriage in Canada. But, as the Conservatives plan to move on the issue that may have won them their minority, the pro same-sex group “Canadians for Equal Marriage” is encouraging its supporters to contact their MPs to say, “I support equal marriage and I want you to vote against re-opening this divisive debate.” But this is precisely what the Tories were elected to do – it was a part of their platform. As such, it is not only their prerogative, but indeed, their responsibility to pursue this issue.
Furthermore, it is not at all clear why proponents of SSM should avoid revisiting the issue that was so cynically used by the Martin Liberals last year. Now, those most in favour of SSM (gay activists) are defending the calculated maneuverings of those who cared least about the issue (politicians). With blatant contempt for the parliamentary process (and thinking only of the next election), Martin scuttled the hearings of the justice committee, which was not allowed to make a recommendation on this issue. And Liberal MPs in cabinet were not allowed a free vote on this issue. (Regrettably, only one cabinet minister, Joe Comuzzi, had the integrity to resign his position rather than violate his conscience.)
Given these shameless tactics, one would think that proponents of SSM would be the ones most eager to rectify the parliamentary charade that Martin orchestrated. But they are not. It is now the proponents of SSM who argue that the new definition of marriage is too precious to redefine (now that the definition suits them) and too time-honoured to alter (after just one year).
Those in favour of SSM seem determined to avoid the normal channels of the democratic process at all costs. During Martin’s reign, they argued that the issue was too important to debate. Now, they argue that debating marriage would be too destructive. When Martin cynically used the issue of SSM against the Tories, pundits called it a “wedge issue.” Now that the Tories are in power, the debate is described by critics as “divisive.” All this illustrates a supreme lack of faith in the democratic system, as well as a faint awareness that, if left up to the Canadian people, marriage would be defined as it has been for millenia.
In spite of what advocates of SSM argue, a divisive issue does not require a divisive debate. Just because an issue is polarizing does not mean that it cannot be handled with maturity, clarity and goodwill by our elected representatives. In fact, divisive issues are what politicians are elected to debate. The issue of SSM is divisive, which is precisely why it is so important that the debate be fair, honest and exhaustive – and not shut down the debate before it was begun simply because our elected officials have different opinions about it.