Thursday, March 17, 2011

Election Issue Number 2,567: Gay Rights

In November of 2003, former Alliance MP Larry Spencer, gave an interview to Vancouver Sun reporter Peter O'Neil, in which he claimed that "... he would support any initiative to outlaw homosexuality." He stated that in the 1960s, a "well-orchestrated" conspiracy began and led to recent successes in the gay rights movement. This conspiracy, he further said, "included seducing and recruiting young boys in playgrounds and locker rooms, and deliberately infiltrating North America's schools, judiciaries, entertainment industries, and religious communities."

Several months prior, another Alliance MP, made headlines with a snide remark in the House of Commons against NDP Svend Robinson, a gay man.

"Mr. Speaker, I am sure the picture of the hon. member of the NDP is posted in much more wonderful places than just police stations." (Hansard, October 23, 2002). That MP was then the leader of the Alliance Party, a man by the name of Stephen Harper.

Tory leader Joe Clark stood up and gave him an opportunity to withdraw the remark, but he steadfastly refused. This prompted prime minister Chretien and several others to rise and turn their backs to him, a clear rebuke, but Harper continued to blunder on.

Later reporters asked him if he thought this was appropriate and urged him to apologize. But even then, most knew that this man would not change his views, which were those shared by most of his caucus. And indeed, as a Reform MP, in defending his party's "G" issues: Guns, Gays and Government Grants, he said that his party "served it's core constituencies quite well" and that they were very happy with Reform's position on these things. (1)

And yet when Larry Spencer's remarks were made public, Harper called him into his office and ripped into him: "You knew we wanted to run on the preservation of the traditional definition of marriage in the next election. Now we can't do that." Spencer went on to say that 'Is it any wonder that the Alliance Party was often being charged with having a secret agenda? When the truth cannot be disseminated, even to caucus members, just what should one believe?' (2)

Harper's concern was not their fundamental intolerance, but the image he was trying to craft. Homophobia was not the issue, but the negative publicity made it more difficult for him to campaign against same-sex marriage.

His and his party's homophobia is well documented, so I don't really need to produce more quotes, but it does raise an important issue. We know that their beliefs have not changed and are there just below the surface, as we learned with the Gay Pride Parade flap.

But how can we move forward as a fair and just society when we don't know what their intentions are. They have defunded Gay pride Week in Toronto, which was no surprise, but for progressives, we want to live in a society where we don't have to use terms like "same-sex marriage" and "gay rights". They will simply be deemed "marriage" and "human rights".

But given that Harper's "core constituency" hold beliefs similar to the video above, and that he continues to play to this core constituency, otherwise known as his "base", what can we expect if this man remains in office, or worse yet, gains a majority?

The fact that he no longer speaks of this, is no indication that he doesn't hold the same intolerant views or ambitions.

There is an attempt by his party to smear Michael Ignatieff, dredging up old quotes and tapes of his days teaching at Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge, taking many of them out of context.

But if we're looking for differences between Michael Ignatieff and Stephen Harper, and there are many, I go back to the Rights Revolution, when as lecturer and author he was asked to present the Massey Lectures for 2000. What struck me about the book, was that it was not "leftie drivel", geared toward political correctness, but a straight forward discussion on Canada's unique rights culture.

And when discussing the gay community Ignatieff speaks of them as equals, not only in rights but responsibilities, which to me is the ultimate compliment, as well as the ultimate acceptance. Inclusive not marginalized.

Nowadays, there are many types of good parents and many types of good families: nuclear, extended, single-parent, same-sex. The fact that there are many types of families does not mean that there are no longer any fixed standards about what a good family is. The test of goodness is loose but evident: it's a community where each member receives and displays lifelong moral concern for the well-being of everyone else. The key is not love necessarily, or hugs, or sentimental Disney eyewash, but an enduring moral commitment.

A child needs to feel that her development matters intensely to another person, and that this person will stay the course with her to ensure that she develops as best she can. What a liberal insists upon is the idea that it is possible to reconcile a commitment to absolute standards of care and responsibility in family life with a faith that these standards can be met by a wide variety of persons and a wide variety of possible family forms.

So-called family values, as propagated in the rhetoric of North American popular entertainment, pulpit sermonizing, and political homily, are a downright tyranny. They make people feel inadequate, ashamed, or guilty about their inability to conform to what is in fact a recent, post-war suburban norm of family domesticity. We need family values all right, but the ones we actually need must be pluralistic. We need to understand that the essential moral needs of any child can be met by family arrangements that run the gamut from arranged marriages right through to same-sex parenting. (3)

Our gay citizens should be able to focus on other concerns, like health issues, without constantly having to seek acceptance, and most Canadians agree. I don't want to hear debates about the legal definition of marriage, but how we are going to create an inclusive society, where no one feels left out. Stephen Harper is not able to do that and that concerns me.

"Same sex marriage is not a human right. ... Undermining the traditional definition of marriage is an assault on multiculturalism and the practices in those communities. " Stephen Harper (Hansard, February 16, 2005)


1. Where Does reform Go From Here, By Stephen Harper, Globe and Mail, March 21, 1995

2. SACRIFICED? TRUTH OR POLITICS, By Larry Spencer, Kayteebella Productions, 2000, ISBN 13-9780978057404

3. The Rights Revolution: CBC Massey Lectures, By Michael Ignatieff, Anansi Books, 2000, ISBN: 978-0-88784-762-2

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