Sunday, November 9, 2008

Weighing in on same-sex marriage

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

On July 20, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the approval of the Civil Marriage Act. Court decisions, starting in 2003, each already legalized same-sex marriage in eight out of ten provinces and one of three territories, whose residents comprised about 90% of Canada's population. Before passage of the Act, more than 3,000 same-sex couples had already married in these areas.[2] Most legal benefits commonly associated with marriage had been extended to cohabiting same-sex couples since 1999.

The Civil Marriage Act was introduced by Paul Martin's Liberal government in the Canadian House of Commons on February 1, 2005 as Bill C-38. It was passed by the House of Commons on June 28, 2005, by the Senate on July 19, 2005, and it received Royal Assent the following day. On December 7, 2006, the House of Commons effectively reaffirmed the legislation by a vote of 175 to 123, defeating a Conservative motion to examine the matter again. This was the third vote supporting same-sex marriage taken by three Parliaments under three Prime Ministers in three different years.

I take things for granted sometimes.

By virtue of being a Canadian citizen, I am legally entitled marry a woman if I so choose. I will likely not choose to marry anyone, because of my own personal beliefs about marriage in general, but I can do so if I choose. I can walk down to Kitchener City Hall and apply for a marriage certificate. Every citizen of Canada has had this right since 2005.

But it goes further.

If I cohabitate with my same-sex partner for one year, I am entitled to the tax benefits/restrictions of common-law couples. If I cohabitate with my same-sex partner for three years, we are considered married by common law, which gives us the same legal benefits of married couples. Or almost - because my five year old and I have different last names, there are complications when it comes to passport applications and out-of-country travel - but her father and I are separated, so that would be the case anyways.
-we can file joint tax returns
-we are legally entitled to joint heath benefits ( I think - correct me if I'm wrong)
-we are entitled to government pension and survivor benefits
- all property acquired during the marriage, common-law or otherwise, is considered joint property
-I have a legal entitlement to make decisions regarding my spouse should she become incapacitated (but I believe that my spouse must put this in writing - this is the same for hetero couples)
-I have a right to custody and access for children, there are also legal rights and obligations regarding child support

and further still...

- I don't know about other provinces, but in Ontario, same sex couples are legally able to foster and/or adopt jointly.
-recently, same-sex parents were given the right to have joint names appear on a child's birth certificate as a child's legal parents, thus eliminating the need and expense of an adoption by the non-birth parent
- it is unlawful to discriminate based on an individual's sexual orientation
-gays and lesbians can join the military with no restrictions

Now, to be sure, not everyone agrees with the decisions our governments have made over the last five to ten years. There are conservative provinces (Alberta) that would happily rescind those rights - but when the legal definition of marriage was changed on a federal level, they were forced to comply. There are religious organizations and social conservative groups that are still hoping to change the legal definition of marriage as "between one man and one woman." Our federal conservative government is a minority government, which means that their power is somewhat limited - they are well aware that re-opening the marriage debate would mean defeat, as they do not have the support of other parties in the House. If the Conservative party held a majority of seats, the marriage debate might be re-opened, in spite of their assurances that it will not.

But here I am, living a country where gay marriage has been legal for three years. Longer, in the province where I reside. I take my rights for granted. I assume that I will always hold those rights. The only reason that I have been extended those rights is because the country I live in is somewhat enlightened.

Yeah, that socialist country that has universal medicare. What else can you expect?

Last Tuesday all eyes were on California. And in my heart, I was hoping that prop 8 would be defeated. It was not. I spent election night in Toronto, watching Amy Ray in concert (I have way more to say about that, but I'll save it for later. Suffice it to say that meeting her was incredible). When the election results came in, Amy and the band were emotional, jubilant, crying onstage, and that feeling swept through the audience. Because of the three-hour time difference, we didn't get the results on prop 8 until much later - I'm sure the jubilance would have been tempered with sadness.

To me, it's not just a question of what constitutes marriage, or who can marry. We are dealing with basic, fundamental human rights, and the denial of those rights based on what seems to be a moral, or religious viewpoint. I am a woman living in a country where I can legally marry a woman. This shouldn't be about luck, or geography.

Fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear that extending rights to same-sex couples will somehow undermine "traditional" marriages. But isn't it true that allowing same-sex couples the right to participate in marriage strengthens the institution of marriage as a whole. Who decides whether or not families are legal, lawful, legitimate? I'd invite anyone who thinks that same-sex marriage corrupts or undermines families in any way to visit my province, to see for themselves that nothing has changed. Life continues as it always did, except that there are no second-class citizens here when it comes to marriage rights. Or family rights.

That's not to say that there is no bigotry. It happens everywhere.

What I don't really understand is how such a fundamental human rights issues ended up being decided by referendum. Perhaps I am not very politically astute. But I have heard more than once, that "majority rules" cannot always be the deciding factor. If every human rights question was debated and decided via referendum, how will minority rights be protected?

And yet, several states allowed such an important question to be decided by "the will of the people." Politicized, funded, backed by various groups in favour or opposed to the fundamental question. I don't want to knock the "no on 8" campaign - it was necessary and needed. But what makes me angry is that there had to be a "no on 8" campaign at all, when I thought that the California Supreme Court had already made a decision.

Should we make all aspects of constitutional change a subject of referendum? I don't know - like I said, perhaps I am not very politically astute, but democracy seems to have failed here. Are the courts not there to decide points of law?

To make a long story even longer, I'm angry. I'm furious that in this so-called enlightened age, discrimination is alive and well, and enshrined in law. I am sitting here in my safe place, and I'm chomping at the bit to do something, anything, to give everyone the same rights that I currently enjoy. I want to march, to protest, to be part of a growing, vocal group that peacefully, non-violently, and yet directly supports the right for same sex families and couples to have equal protection under the law, no matter where they live. If we work together, if we all raise our voices as one, we can create change.

At ritual, when we cast a circle we say "We are between the worlds. What happens between the worlds can change the world." In other words, our thoughts, our actions, the work we do matters. What we imagine, we can call into being. We can work for change, no matter where we live. The words we write matter. Out songs, our voices, the art we create - they all matter, they can be agents for change. This is not a time to be silent.

This is my identity. This is who I am, and I am proud of it. Let's go!


Jackie said...

Thank you for this post. It makes my heart soar and helps me calm my anger and encourages my determination to achieve both my human and civil rights in America.

trinity2 said...

Well said! And, thanks for stopping by my blog!

truthseeker said...

Your last line -- talking about your identity....

My amazon identity -- I looked for it for years and finally found it a few years ago. Now I know why I never fit in -- in this world.