Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Same-Sex Marriage : C-38 Version 2

It's an unfortunate thing about the Paul Martin type of Liberal: sometimes you have to kick him in the nards before he starts to listen to you.

Pat O'Brien's quitting the caucus was the kick that finally got him to seriously consider amendments to Bill C-38, the gay marriage bill.

Here's some of the report from CTV News (hat tip to Canadianna):

Prime Minister Paul Martin held a private meeting with more than 30 MPs was held last night, following a decision by Liberal MP Pat O'Brien to leave the party and sit as an Independent over the legislation.

CTV's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife told Canada AM this morning that Martin and the MPs came to an agreement on four amendments with regard to Bill C-38.

Let's look at some of the amendments proposed here:

1. Stronger guarantees that Charter rights will not override religious freedoms

Right now, the relevant text of Bill C-38 reads: "It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs." It's weak, very weak. A stronger guarantee would have something like explicit invocation of Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (guaranteeing freedom of religion.)

2. Justices of the Peace who do not want to perform civil marriages of same-sex couples will not have to do so.

What's needed here is something to the effect of being able to refuse without suffering disciplinary action for refusing. That will involve negotiations with the relevant provincial agencies, but this section should and ought to serve as a directive.

3. Churches are not required to rent out their halls for same-sex weddings

Again, this could be worded more strongly, perhaps along the lines of "no religious institution or affiliate shall be compelled by authority to rent or lease its property for the purposes of a same-sex marriage." It certainly should be enough to get the Knights of Columbus out of court.

4. Religious educational institutions will still be allowed to preach that homosexuality is against God's law, without being subject to hate crime laws.

How that one got on the table, I'm not sure. But again, the wording has to be worked out: "still be allowed" gives the impression that the government allows the Church to preach a message, when in reality the preaching is none of the government's business.

Note that there's nothing here about definitions of marriage, traditional or otherwise. The lawyers at Justice have pretty much got the government's ear on this one; they're afraid of undermining the lower courts.

These amendments probably aren't enough to bring O'Brien back, but they might be enough to get the anti-SSM Liberals (and a few of the more centrist Tories) to lower their opposition. Stephen Harper will probably say that it's not enough for the Tories, but really only a full-fledged debate will tell for sure.

UPDATE (13h25 07 Jun): Well, it looks like the "Mister Dithers" persona of Paul Martin is back:

No consensus, however, has been reached, according to Scott Reid, the Prime Minister's communications director.

Reid said Martin only promised that he would be open to the four amendments, although MPs at the meeting apparently left with the impression they had a deal.

"There is a long-standing commitment that all amendments will be treated fairly -- whether they come at committee or report stage," said Reid. "The Prime Minister told caucus what he's said publicly -- as part of an open process amendments will be considered fairly on their merits."

But who defines "fairly"? Fast-tracking is hardly fair--it's what caused O'Brien to resign in the first place.

And Martin had better understand one thing: loyalty cuts both ways. If he says "it's a deal" in private and "I'm just being open to suggestions" in public, those C-38 opponets may also become open to suggestions -- of non-confidence.