Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Proposition 8: Backwards Progress

Earlier this year the California Supreme Court narrowly voted in favour of legalizing same-sex marriages. I applaud the California Supreme Court both for this decision, and by not allowing the issue to be settled by public opinion. Two weeks after the decision, public opinion reared it's ugly head and with over half a million petition signatures, Proposition 8 was added to the next general election ballot. Despite the title of this blog article, the actual title of Proposition 8 is "Eliminates Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry". Today is the day the Californian public decides.

I've been reading about advance polls of how people will vote, and the results are scaring me. In all of the polls the results have been very close. In fact in some polls the difference in the percentages of For and Against were less than the margin of error in calculating those numbers - meaning it could go either way. This is what upsets me. It might seem like a great idea to let democracy rule, but it is not okay to potentially vote away fairness and equality.

There are many voters who disagree with homosexuality based on their various personal bias and ignorance, and/or their religion inspired narrow mindedness and bigotry. These people will likely see a vote in favour of maintaining the right of same-sex couples to marry as a vote in favour of homosexuality. Such people will read the ballot as if they are literally voting on homosexuality.

In California homosexuality is not the issue on the ballot. The matter at hand is a matter of equality. It is about whether it is legal to restrict the right to marry for a subset of the population, while allowing everyone else to freely exercise that same right. The issue is simply about potentially making it legal to discriminate against a minority group.

Democracy is a great thing, but this is just not a matter that should be up to the lowest common denominator philosophy of the democratic treatment. People are often too biased to be relied upon to vote in the best interests of society. People are often too set-in-their-ways to vote towards progress. For issues of equality and human rights, democracy must be served by putting decisions in the hands of elected officials. This is what elected governments are for, to serve the public trust, to put the rights of all citizens first and foremost, and make the right decision for society - now and future.

In Canada we've gone through all this already, and I am proud to say we did the right thing. There were people at the time who wanted to use the "notwithstanding clause" of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to simply say that the rights of same-sex couples do not matter, but thankfully this did not come about. I give a lot of credit to Prime Minister Martin, who took a stand in favour of same-sex marriages. In a speech regarding Bill C-38 (The Civil Marriage Act) he said:

"We cannot exalt the Charter as a fundamental aspect of our national character and then use the notwithstanding clause to reject the protections that it would extend. Our rights must be eternal, not subject to political whim.

"To those who value the Charter yet oppose the protection of rights for same-sex couples, I ask you If a prime minister and a national government are willing to take away the rights of one group, what is to say they will stop at that? If the Charter is not there today to protect the rights of one minority, then how can we as a nation of minorities ever hope, ever believe, ever trust that it will be there to protect us tomorrow?

"My responsibility as Prime Minister, my duty to Canada and to Canadians, is to defend the Charter in its entirety. Not to pick and choose the rights that our laws shall protect and those that are to be ignored. Not to decree those who shall be equal and those who shall not.

"If we do not step forward, then we step back. If we do not protect a right, then we deny it. Mr. Speaker, together as a nation, together as Canadians Let us step forward."

I'm hoping that today the state of California doesn't take a huge step backward today.

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