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Jay Currie

One Damn Thing After Another









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2/19/2005

"Tradition" fails Harper

Poor Harper.

It is sad to watch an essentially decent man twist himself up into a poll pandering populist on an issue as profoundly trivial as SSM.

In an attempt to justify what his pollsters are telling him is selling in Canada the man confuses fundamental human rights with equality before the law, appears to take a cheap shot at the Grits on the Holocaust, mangles a Supreme Court decision and demonstrates a woeful lack of perspective. Not bad in a fifty minute speech.

Harper would have been better off simply singing "Tradition" from Fiddler on the Roof and sitting down.

"Tradition" is a wonderful thing and something which I genuinely believe is a vital part of a civil society. But, if traditionally, we always let Chinese people file their income tax six months late I would think that wrong at law. If tradition barred women from medical school I would think that wrong as well.

The fundamental human right at stake in SSM is the right to be treated equally before the law. No one is arguing that it is a fundamental human right for gays to marry; rather, the right involved is to be treated equally by the chap at the wicket at the Marriage Registry.

Whether you think SSM is a good thing or the work of Satan, equality before the law is a critical value. Which Harper and the CPC should know.

The learned commentary of our assoted legal friends is important simply because it sets out the conditions under which the fundamental value of equality before the law may be abridged. They are very stiff conditions.

Essentially, to deny equal rights you have to present a compelling case as to why such denial is reasonably justified in a free and democratic society. Reading Harper's remarks I cannot see how his arguments meet that test. "We've always done it that way." is just lame.

Harper's problem, of course, is that he has no fundamental, principled, position against gay marriage but his back bench is yowling. In the absence of a strong commitment to individual rights Harper is forced back to the embarassment of citing time worn tradition.

Fifty years ago divorce in Canada, leave aside England, was a difficult, expensive, blame-casting business. It reflected the then prevailling view that marriage was, by definition, forever. The evolution of the Divorce Act demonstrates that the definition of "marriage" is a fluid, dynamic and socially constructed thing.

"One man, one woman, forever." became "One man, one woman, for as long as they stay together". It is not a huge stretch to say, "Two people, committed."

If Harper could get his mind, and his caucus, around that idea he'd be rather better off.