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We need a democratic solution to help solve gay marriage issue Print E-mail
Written by Link Byfield   
Monday, 07 February 2005

You have to hand it to Ralph Klein.

He may not read many books, but he can read an electorate.

After the Supreme Court threw the political hot potato of homosexual marriage back at Paul Martin on Dec. 9, Ralph, and Ralph alone, said there should be a national referendum.

All the "important" Canadians jeered. We don't settle questions of minority rights by majority vote, sniffed national Justice Minister Irwin Cotler.

Scores of Liberals, Conservatives, media pundits and law profs chimed in agreement.

Silly Ralph. What a bunch of hop-heads those Albertans are.

Well, these fine folk should speak for themselves. In fact, it now turns out they are speaking only for themselves.

A Compas poll published Wednesday reported that a massive majority of Canadians -- 67% -- want gay marriage put to a national referendum.

This includes most Liberal voters (66%), most Conservative voters (78%) and half of socialist and separatist voters (50% and 52%).

It includes people who favour legalizing gay marriage and people who oppose it.

It almost sounds as if voters on both sides of this issue think their side would win.

Or maybe they see that, win or lose, a change so fundamental to the future of the country -- to our social understanding of the family and our legal understanding of equality -- must satisfy the judgment of the people who have to live with it.

Democracy. What a concept!

Let's hear from the whole Canadian people. It's our country. It's our Constitution. We should decide what our Constitution means.

For instance, what is the meaning of the word "family"?

That's what this debate is about.

It isn't really about "homophobia," or "freedom of religion." Those things probably tie in to some extent, but they're not the main point.

Does "the family" have a social or public purpose? If so, do gay couples contribute to that purpose?

Canadians now want to answer this question themselves, because most of us no longer trust our judges and politicians to answer it for us.

There are really only two possibilities -- two models -- to pick from.

Possibility No. 1 is that the family exists to protect love be-tween two or more persons. It may involve children, it may not.

Maybe it's male-female, maybe same-sex. The love may be sexual or platonic, life-long or brief. The details don't matter as long as it's loving.

People who think this way support gay marriage. To them, it's about an equal right to love.

Those who oppose gay marriage believe the family serves a specific public purpose. It unites the two sexes one pair at a time, in hope they will create and raise children in a socially and legally protected environment, thus ensuring that society continues. It's up to the married couple to preserve the love, and it's up to society and the state to preserve the special status. And giving the same status to every Tom, Dick and Harry (so to speak) is an odd way to do it.

The first conception of marriage is adult-centred, the second child-centred.

Most of us have never given this subject much serious thought. A referendum gives everyone three or four months to consider it together, and then to decide it.

Parliament would then be guided by the clear judgment of the people. Referendums in Canada are not legally binding, but they are politically authoritative. It's a rare MP rash enough to insist that he knows better than the people who elected him.

The hard part will be getting our federal politicians to surrender control of the issue.

Right now they're having too much fun kicking it around Parliament like a football.

Nobody ever willingly gives up power, including MPs.

To encourage them to do the right thing, the Citizens Centre (a non-profit group I chair) is renting billboards across the country this month and next. They'll say, "Gay Marriage? Let the people decide. (www.

Look for the first one on 9 Ave. at 7 St. S.W. next week.

- Link Byfield

Link Byfield is chairman of the Edmonton-based Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy, and an Alberta senator-elect.
"Just Between Us" is a feature service of the Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy. The purpose of the Citizens Centre is to enhance freedom and democracy by enabling ordinary citizens to become active and effective on important issues outside the normal processes of party politics.

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