Marriage in Canada: an equal opportunity institution?

ssmarriageThe institution of marriage has long been a cultural and religious staple to celebrate both the union of two people, and the union of two families. Though public perceptions may have changed, marriage is still a way to ensure financial stability, successful reproduction, and a successful translation of cultural norms to future generations. Despite these favourable aspects, marriage has also allowed for the patriarchy to continue; privileging men as being the rightful and dominant member of the union, and denying women control over their own choices, at least for the great majority of history.

Sadly, and demonstrably, marriage has not been an equal opportunity institution for anyone outside of a patriarchal, hetero-normative relationship. It has institutionally subjugated women for most of its history, and has been exclusive to those who place religious values over civic values.

However, as our culture changes and adapts to an emphasis on inclusivity for all people within our nation’s borders, the institution of marriage is being called into question, with the principles of marriage coming up, and coming out. The basic principles of ‘marriage’ are simple a union of two people for mutual gain. Whether it be sexual, financial, reproductive, love, or partnership, that draws two people together, marriage is not defined by the genders of those partaking. Heterosexual couples adopt as often as same-sex couples do. Foster homes are far too prevalent in our society, and couples taking in five, six children at a time cannot provide as safe an environment as a loving – and, yes, even gay, – couple could.

The recent success of proposition no.1 in Maine, and the less recent but still poignant success of proposition no.8 in California, held congruently with the 2008 Presidential election period have caused activist groups and individuals both south and north of the 49th parallel great remorse. However, it is not just our southern brother exemplifying backward and stagnate cultural behavior. Canada herself still struggles to prove to our European cousins that not everywhere in this hemisphere is a legislative wasteland.

It is often said that Canadians define our identity in non-Americanisms. We are decidedly and proudly ‘not American’. We eat different food, we elect Liberals, not Democrats, we take a less abrasive stance on patriotism, and of course, we have public health care. While all of these have special Canadian exceptions – Twinkies, Ignatieff, Afghanistan, the recently passed Healthcare Bill – Canadians embrace cultural fluidity, far outstripping America in this regard.

Policy and legislative changes in Canada are subject to strong regional influences. That said, as a federation, there is still a strong nation wide acceptance of certain things and federal regulations that ensure certain prescriptive freedoms. Marijuana smoking is widely accepted and indulged in, Tim Horton’s and Robin’s Donuts are rural staples, and marriage in Canada is officially an equal opportunity institution.

On July 20th, 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world, and the first country on this half of the globe to recognize the concept of ‘Civil Unions’, allowing same-sex couples the right to be recognized under the law as a unified couple, complete with the right of property sharing, inheritance, and divorce proceedings. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the constitutional rights of same-sex marriages to be recognized as marriages and over the next three years, legal and political challenges to the institutionalization of same-sex unions in Canada have time and again been defeated by three consecutive federal governments.

Most provinces were supportive of this decision, submitting themselves willingly to the federal jurisdiction to which they belonged. To no one’s surprise, there was one province and one very ‘popular’ (or at least ‘populist’) leader who not only refused to support same-sex marriage but also called for a nation wide referendum. The very concept of a nation-wide referendum to settle a political and ideological dispute, which has entrenched and rather well-worded support within the Canadian Constitution and section two of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, signals a backward worldview that goes against our best principles as Canadians.

The oh-so clearly policy wise, and intellectual leader spoken of above was none other than King Ralph himself. Our former Premier did his very best to frighten Albertans, creating an environment where same-sex marriage was equated to polygamy, bestiality, and numerous other extrapolations which secreted less common sense than Glenn Beck.

Perhaps former Prime Minister Paul Martin said it most eloquently in a speech supporting same-sex marriage to the House of Commons in 2005, telling parliamentarians: “We would risk becoming a country in which the defense of rights is weighed, calculated, and debated based on electoral or other considerations. That would set us back decades as a nation. It would be wrong for the minorities of this country, it would be wrong for Canada.” Celebrating ignorance and fear is far from the Canadian ideal, and although I am not an American, I presume many Americans feel similarly.

The LGBT communities in both these countries are strong, and proud. The community and on-campus organizations that exist in many urban and even rural areas educate their communities and themselves on the ongoing challenges to acceptance people face due to their sexuality and their lifestyle.

Albertans on the whole are a fairly tolerant and just people. Our provincial culture was founded on a spirit of adventure, of breaking barriers, and demanding recognition. While these Northwest Territories were once wild land, settlers came to build homes and communities and create a safe environment for the future generations to grow up in.

Is this the environment we want our children to be subject too? The success of both Proposition 1 in Maine, and Proposition 8 in California speaks to several faults in the mindset of policy makers in America, but also speaks to a fear of change by the public that voted. Recognizing the right of same-sex marriage by no means lowers the value of a heterosexual marriage license. It does nothing to the religious values that shroud marriages of faith, as they have their own rules of engagement.

Sadly, Alberta has seemed to have progressed little in the last half decade. Our legislative assembly still seems to believe that the hearts and minds of Albertans are stuck in an archaic and ignorant stronghold of beliefs. How else does one explain the passing of Bill 44, a bill that simultaneously upholds sexual orientation hate crimes as a violation of human rights – as the Supreme Court ruled ELEVEN YEARS AGO – while disallowing sexual orientation, or sexuality as a whole to be taught, discussed, entertained, or even questioned in Alberta’s education system.

Teachers now have to write out their curriculums, explicitly defining when and how they plan to approach the topic of sexuality within any subject. Biology, English, Social Studies, and yes, Sexual Education will now be under close eyes of a few hard line parents, who now have the right to drag a teacher before the Human Rights Commission for entertaining the thought experiment that children might be curious.

Alberta is still a province when the GBLT community faces violent action against them, where law enforcement do little to ensure future safety, and where respected members of academic communities face a genuine threat to their family’s safety. It is every persons responsibility to communicate to our legislative members, our representatives, those who are supposed to reflect the true hearts and minds of Albertans, that we as a province are open minded, we respect equality, and that we believe marriage should be an equal opportunity institution. For better or for worse.

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