Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Picking your battles

I was dismayed to see this link from Adam Radwanski's blog to a story in the Ottawa Citizen that Kevin Bourassa is arguing that churches that argue against same-sex marriage should lose their charitable status, but not entirely surprised by the story. If it were possible to completely manage the struggle for gay & lesbian rights, it would be preferable to deal with each issue one at a time, and keep more radical proposals aside for the time being. Indeed, that etapiste strategy (with a nod to Rene Levesque) has been the basic strategy of EGALE and the equal-rights lobby of the gay community.

We don't however live in a society in which dissenting or radical voices can be kept quiet. That's part of the fun of a democratic society. Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, EGALE and other equal-rights groups have had to co-exist with the gay liberation movement advocating for reduced age-of-consent laws, the elimination of bawdy house laws, elimination of some restrictions on pornography, when it likely would have preferred not to have these issues as a distraction/cudgel for opponents of gay rights.

The same applies to any other social movement with its radical and more conservative elements. The two rarely agree to let only one voice be presented to the public. Moderate elements are constantly challenged to make their voice be positively received by their societies. In the late '60s and 1970s, when Canada was moving towards the implementation of official bilingualism, there were some people who did think that every civil servant (or every Canadian) should be fluently bilingual. Opponents of the legislation raised the spectre of a "French takeover" of Canada. The groups working for a more moderate official languages policy had to make it clear that this was not their intent, and that French would not be "forced down the throats" of every Canadian.

Do Bourassa's comments (and those of others who agree with him) pose a challenge to advocates of same-sex marriage? Yes, but hardly an insurmountable one. There are a number of different lines of argumentation that need to be put forth to calm a wary electorate:

1) Remind people of Section 1 of the Charter - the reasonable limits clause. Any Supreme Court is going to be extremely wary of stripping all churches in Canada of their charitable status for speaking out on issues that might be perceived as political, particularly since morality and politics are so intertwined. Stripping charitable status from any church that took a public stance on an issue of morality, either for or against, would quickly lead to the elimination of charitable status for all churches. And that will not happen. Even if it did, this is an area where any government would invoke section 33 of the Charter.

However, to focus on Radwanski's concerns more directly, about how this might impact the passage of Bill C-38:

2) Bourassa's comments, or the spectre of a court challenge to the charitable status of churches, would not be affected by the demise of Bill C-38. Whether the bill passes or not, an activist would be free to bring forth their court challenge against a church which engaged in any form of political lobbying. That remains true even if Bill C-38 is not passed.

Frankly, at this point minds have been made up. Any last-minute speeches are not going to sway the minds of the current Parliament. The only way that this latest entry could hurt the chances of Bill C-38 passing is if twits like Pat O'Brien and Tom Wappel decide to use a budget vote as a pretext for bringing down the government before C-38 is voted upon.

There is a larger issue to be discussed here about the nature of Canada's definition of charities, but that is the subject for another post.

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At 12:17 pm, Blogger Jason Cherniak said...

If EGALE had been following this strategy, they never would have made this a political issue. Instead, they would have allowed the courts to rule the traditional definition to be unconstitutional.

At 3:57 pm, Blogger Matt said...

Jason, this has been precisely EGALE's strategy - to take each issue to the courts, slowly building momentum. And it's what they have done with same-sex marriage as well. However, once the traditional definition was ruled unconstitutional, it was back in the hands of Parliament to re-write the legislation.


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