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Notwithstanding minority rights

Tonight’s vote in the Commons on the definition of marriage was a sad sad affair.  Sad that so many Canadians feel it necessary to vote on such a basic issue of human dignity and kindness.  Sad that it was so narrowly won.  Sad because some of those who would lead our country (Peter Mackay, Steven Harper) feel it necessary to stoop to hate mongering in order to win votes.  Sad because the man who will lead the country (Paul Martin) was so silent during the lead up to the vote.

This past summer, during Ottawa’s annual Open Doors event, in which institutions all over the city that are normally closed to the public open their doors for a day, I took my family to the Supreme Court.  The building itself is a magnificent and imposing art-deco edifice. As you walk up the steps, to the left and right are huge bronze statues titled "Truth" and "Justice". It truly has a feel about it of a court of last resort.

We toured the court, visiting all of the court rooms, the judges’ dressing rooms and the lobby of the court.  The lobby contains a number of displays of historical artifacts relating to law in Canada, and the development of the court.  On a stand in one corner there is one of the original signed copies of the Charter of Rights.    It’s hard to describe the effect of seeing that document.  It was intense.  I choked up, and would have likely burst into tears, had it not been such a public place.  I believe so wholeheartedly in the things which that simple piece of paper says, and which I believe Canada stands for, that it was hard for me to not be overcome by the moment.

Rights are rights.  The notwithstanding clause was a bullshit compromise that had to be struck in order to gain the support of the provinces.  It should never be invoked, especially not to override section 15, which states:

 15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit (emphasis mine) of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.

Everyone is equal before the law, and entitled to equal protection and equal benefit from the law.  This notion began with the Magna Carta, extended to the French and American revolutions, and is now part of our law in Canada.  It is an idea that, in Western Civilization, has been around for nearly a thousand years.  It is this idea which is at the center of the debate on same-sex marriage.  Are gay people to be equal under the law, and enjoy the equal benefit of the law, or not?

I have no patience for anyone who would deny another member of society their basic equality rights. Opposition parties should not make this an issue in the next election.  They will lose the support of traditional conservative voters like myself. Are you listening Peter Mackay and Stephen Harper? 

Coverage from tonight’s vote:

  • Globe and Mail: The story and the vote tally.
  • The Asper View (via the Ottawa Citizen online): Notable because Paul Martin has declared that this is a rights issue.  Hallelujah!
  • The National Post: same as the other Asper View.
  • The CBC: Bloc Québécois MP Real Menard said, "It’s like a father who tells his daughter, ‘I’m not a racist but I don’t want you to marry a black person,’ or a husband who says to his wife, ‘I’m for equality but I don’t want you to have the right to work.’ Isn’t there a point somewhere when you have to walk the walk?"

  

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