Thursday, July 07, 2005

Just a few more days, and all is said and done

Gay Marriage Bill Advances In Canadian Senate
by Alexander Panetta, Canadian Press

Posted: July 6, 2005 7:00 pm ET


(Ottawa) For a brief moment, the same-sex marriage debate in the Senate became a theological exchange on a timeless question: What would Jesus do?

For one Senator, Jesus Christ would have supported Bill C-38, the controversial legislation that will allow gays and lesbians to marry in civil ceremonies.

``As a Christian, I often ask myself: `What would Jesus do?','' Marilyn Trenholme Counsell, a New Brunswick Liberal, said Wednesday.

``In this case, in this time, I believe he would say `Yes.'''

Some Canadians want the appointed Senate scrapped. Others want radical changes to an institution that offers a base salary of $119,000 to Canadians of distinction, or those with friends in high places.

But Parliament's often-derided upper chamber was working overtime into the summer as Senators spent another sunny afternoon debating the same-sex bill, expected to receive their approval within days.

On Wednesday, Senators voted 43-12 in favor of second reading, which now sends the bill to committee for further study.

Freedom from electoral concerns is injecting some frankness into what had been a cautious debate in the Commons last week, with the lower chamber approving the bill.

Gone Wednesday was the poll-driven, focus-group-tested exchange, where Liberals in the Commons were ``defending the Charter of Rights'' against Conservatives, who were ``defending the traditional definition of marriage.''

In the Senate, the debate over C-38 was about gays, lesbians and even Jesus.

Tory Senator Consiglio Di Nino offered a quip when a colleague asked for his take on Trenholme Counsell's doctrinal appraisal.

``I don't have the same relationship with Jesus, obviously, as Senator Trenholme Counsell,'' he said.

Unlike Prime Minister Paul Martin, some Liberals in the Senate were far more willing to decry traditional marriage as a human-rights violation against gays and lesbians.

Manitoba's Sharon Carstairs was scathing in her put-down of a proposed amendment to the legislation favoured by some opponents.

Some want it changed to say that marriage has historically been for heterosexuals only. Such an amendment would likely delay the bill's passing until fall.

Carstairs dismissed the proposal as an affront to human rights.

``Let's try the same on the prohibited grounds of race, national or ethnic origin. ... Maybe we could say the following: `Notwithstanding the superiority of the white race as ordained by God and illustrated by his divine wisdom in separating the races into different continents, non-white persons for the purposes of civil law shall be considered equal to white persons','' she said.

``This position is simply untenable.''

But Tory Senator Anne Cools - who is black - called it an ``enormous mistake'' to compare the issue to the struggle of African-Americans for human rights.

``Marriage is not now and has never been a right,'' said Cools, who left the Liberal party because of her opposition to C-38.

``No sacrament of the church has ever been a right.''

Senators from both sides of the floor debated the legacy of the late Liberal prime minister Pierre Trudeau, who decriminalized homosexuality in 1969 and later shepherded the Charter of Rights that was used to overturn the traditional marriage law.

Cools said Liberals had abandoned Trudeau's famous belief that the state has no place in the nation's bedrooms.

Trenholme Counsell retorted that Trudeau ``speaks to us through the charter.'' Courts in eight provinces have ruled that the charter's guarantee of equality for all citizens is being violated by the exclusion of gays and lesbians from marriage.

Carstairs spoke of her own 39-year marriage to her husband, John.

``I often wondered what I would do if one of my daughters had come to me and said: `Mom, I have chosen a partner and the partner I have chosen is of the same gender.'

``I hope that what I would have said to them ... is: `I want you to have the same joy in your life that I have had with your father','' she said.

``How can I, who have had the glorious pleasure of 39 years of that experience, deny it to any other person?''

The Senate only rarely overturns legislation approved by the democratically elected Commons.

Once C-38 passes the Senate, likely next week, Canada will become the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriage.

©Canadian Press 2005

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