It’s all over but the shouting (specifically, that of Anne Cools in the Senate Chamber). C-38 has passed third reading in the House of Commons, and same-sex marriage will soon be legislated nationwide. While Harper vows that a Conservative government would try to repeal the legislation, it seems that the issue will be settled for the time being. Marriage will be legally defined as the union of two persons to the exclusion of all others, and same-sex couples will be able to choose to access the same laws that opposite-sex couples can.
Except, of course, in Alberta, where some people have soured on the whole ancient enterprise at the prospect of sharing it with them. Premier Klein has mused about having the provincial government cease issuing marriage licenses at all, and having the province only formalize civil unions. The government, it would seem, would be degraded by printing licenses and certificates for same-sex couples, so best to just scrap the whole thing and start from scratch.
We see laid bare now that which was thinly veiled before, that opposition to same-sex marriage among many conservatives in this country is not based on rational arguments, but a visceral disdain for gay and lesbian persons. “Same-sex marriage makes it official state policy that there will be children growing up without mothers and children growing up without fathers… Getting out of the civil marriage business would keep us from doing that,” said MLA Ted Morton. Yet how in the world does discarding the entire civil institution, with its centuries of history in our legal system, affirm the superiority of opposite-sex couples?
The proposal seems to be about as well thought-out as it is petty and spiteful. In Canada, the provinces have the sole legislative authority to regulate the solemnization of marriage, so complete disengagement from the institution is not really an option. Marriage is an institution recognized by federal and international law, and can not be simply substituted with a parochial civil union scheme. Without a clear marriage licensing system, Albertans would be at a tremendous disadvantage federally and internationally.
Not that there wouldn’t be benefits. Extra-provincial weddings would become the norm for couples who wanted to ensure the legal validity of their unions, so Albertans would have reason to travel more. Lloydminster would have a pleasant prospect for becoming the Gretna Green of the prairies. And of course it would be easier to get out of those weddings one did not wish to attend, since the required trip would provide a dependable excuse.
In truth, I’m sure Klein is merely outlining the outlandish in order to not appear complacent to socially conservative MLAs. By floating the idea now and waiting for the inevitable backlash, he is effectively sabotaging the proposal so as to avoid pressure to actually implement it. Such is not the case with Morton and some other hardline social conservatives. They are more than ready to take their ball and go home.