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Same-sex marriage threatened?

Canada’s acceptance of gay marriage will come before its new and more Conservative Parliament after it is called into its first session, but whether that Parliament is conservative enough to repeal gay marriage remains extremely uncertain.

The pro-gay Globe and Mail newspaper counted 153 members of Parliament who either voted for the legislation in the old Parliament or indicated they would support it in the new one. This would seem to assure that the expected bill to repeal the approval will fail by a narrow margin.

For myself, I think the issue will not be decided by the MPs at all, but by Christians, conservative Jews and those Muslims who joined in the unsuccessful campaign to defeat the bill last year.

At one point, they assembled 15,000 people on Parliament Hill to oppose gay marriage, the biggest such rally in living memory. It was virtually ignored by the media, but not by the MPs. In the end, gay marriage was passed 158-133 in a supposedly free vote. But it carried only after Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin required the 34 members of his Cabinet and their Cabinet secretaries to vote for it. One Cabinet minister resigned rather than vote for the bill. An NDP (i.e., socialist) MP was denied communion in the Catholic church for having done so.

If opponents of gay marriage mount an equally aggressive campaign this year, I think many MPs will be either convinced or frightened into supporting repeal. But if they fall victim to the old liberal argument that the public acceptance of sexual profligacy in all its forms is inevitable, then the bill to repeal gay marriage will fail.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper opened his election campaign in December by announcing that if elected prime minister he will permit a genuinely free vote, with no coercion on his Cabinet to vote one way or the other. In last month’s election, 30 Liberals were defeated who had voted in favor of gay marriage. Some were replaced by NDP members who will still favor it, some by Conservatives who will probably not.

Several other factors will influence the forthcoming vote. One is the leaderless state of the Liberal Party. Paul Martin has said he will not take the party into another election. Four top contenders for the succession – former Liberal Cabinet ministers John Manley, Alan Rock and Brian Tobin and former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna, who resigned last week as Canadian ambassador in Washington, have one by one announced they don’t want the job.

This will diminish the customary Ottawa-control of the party’s constituency nomination process, thus opening Liberal nominations to Christian candidates. Tory MPs, who likewise did not need re-nomination for January’s election, have been forewarned they too will need to be reaffirmed to run next time.

In most constituencies, the nomination goes to whoever can call out the most delegates to a nomination meeting. Churches can turn out large numbers of people. So if they make their views known to MPs, this will certainly influence how they vote.

Another factor will influence the vote the other way, namely the failure of the Conservative Party to win seats in Toronto, Montreal or the core area of Vancouver. This “urban barrier” against the Tories, wrote Lawrence Solomon in the Financial Post, is rooted in one area of legislation alone, namely sex. Urban voters have no quarrel with fiscal conservatism, he writes, only social conservatism.

Basing his calculations on the premise that 5 percent of Canadians are either gay or strong gay supporters, and most live in cities, he discerned 10,000 votes in every city constituency who are unalterably opposed to Harper’s party, plus several thousand more women, who fear the closet influence of the pro-life movement within the party.

So if Harper wants to win the cities, says Solomon, all he need do is lead the Gay Pride Day parade in Toronto. “The organizers would welcome him with open arms, as would the country.”

Since the proposal was apparently made seriously, it tells us more about Solomon than about Harper. First, it tells us that he assumes that Harper (much like himself, no doubt) believes that in the sexual sphere, right and wrong simply do not exist. Second, it tells us that in Solomon’s view, “the country” consists of Toronto, Montreal and downtown Vancouver. He might discover that Calgary and Edmonton, both pushing 1 million population, voted solidly Tory. He might also discover it was Harper’s Tories, after all, who formed the government.

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