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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Monday, August 12, 2013

Letter to a young Liberal on gay marriage

I had lunch recently with some old friends who introduced me to their daughter's fiancé, a really nice young man who is a graduate student at a big university. He's also a big-L Liberal who is active in the university's Young Liberals club and volunteers for the party in his local riding. He loves to talk politics, as do I, and we engaged in some good-natured banter over lunch.

It turned out that he and I have a lot in common politically; a belief in individual responsibility, small government, low taxes and fiscal discipline. I remarked that I didn't think he was really a Liberal after all, and that he should come over to the Dark Side and set his inner conservative free. He shook his head and said "I could never belong to a party that doesn't support gay marriage or abortion rights."  Ah, there it was - the old bogeymen that Liberals love to frighten children with.

I said to him that the Conservative Party of Canada has bent over backwards to make it clear to Canadians that a Conservative government had no intention of changing any existing laws or policies in these areas, and he replied "Well why was it in the CPC's 2011 election platform?" I answered that I was familiar with the CPC platform and was sure there was no policy to overturn gay marriage or restrict abortion in the document. He insisted there was, so we left it at that.

A little while later I did check the CPC platform (available here ) and sure enough - nothing. I sent my friend an email to gloat a little:
By the way, you can tell your lefty son-in-law to be that I called his bluff and combed through the most recent Conservative Party Platform looking for his alleged anti-gay and anti-abortion policies, and lo-and-behold, couldn't find ANY! I couldn't even find any "pro-family" policies that could be remotely interpreted, even by a Liberal, as anti-gay or pro-life.
Big surprise.
The young man responded and said that it was his mistake; it wasn't actually in the platform, but was in a 2008 policy declaration that was re-affirmed at the 2011 convention, and sent this link. I responded with this email:
Well, hello young Liberal - I suppose you've been waiting for me to "harrumph" in response, so I guess I'd better fire off a reply.

First of all, I can't find the document you linked anywhere on the Conservative Party's public website; it must be part of Harper's Secret Agenda. However, assuming that it was actually CPC policy in 2011, I have a few comments.

First - so what? Many Conservatives (probably a majority) believe that marriage should be between a man and a woman. I do not share that opinion, and am a firm supporter of gay marriage, but I don't think that people who disagree with me are evil, and I accept that it is OK to believe in traditional marriage in a free democratic society. Lots of religious folks are uncomfortable with gay marriage but would support some sort of civil union that gives gay couples the same legal rights while reserving the religious sacrament of marriage itself to be performed by churches. Libertarians like me believe that the state shouldn't be involved in marriage at all - couples should be free to make their own arrangements without having to have the approval of the government. Incidentally, the CPC position isn't just that of right wing redneck Christians - it is also shared by Jews and Muslims and lots of recent immigrants whom your party is bending over backwards to attract. It is also the opinion held by one of your liberal patron saints Barack Obama, at least it was until his recent deathbed conversion-of-convenience.

The document you sent me also contains the following phrase - "The Conservative Party believes that Parliament, through a free vote, and not the courts should determine the definition of marriage." In 2006 the Conservatives introduced a resolution in the House asking members to decide in just such a free vote whether to re-open the debate on gay marriage. The resolution was resoundingly defeated, and many Conservative MPs (including a few Cabinet ministers) voted against it. There has been no further attempt to raise the issue by the Conservatives or anyone else in the House.

By the way, the document you linked to is not the platform that the CPC ran on in the 2011 election, which made no mention of gay marriage or abortion. So, I would have to conclude that the party does not want to change the existing laws in these areas. Stephen Harper has had a majority government for over 2 years now and controls the House of Commons, the Senate and Rideau Hall and will soon be able to pack the Supreme Court with Conservatives - surely if the CPC wanted to abolish gay marriage or restrict abortion they would have done it by now. In fact, Harper has ruthlessly clamped down on backbenchers who dare to even bring up these issues, much to the chagrin of some social conservatives. I believe Harper when he says (as he has many times) that the CPC has no intention of re-opening these issues and that he considers them settled in Canada.

And anyway, what is the cutoff date for outrage over past policies? 2011? 2006? 1945?  It seems to me that your party has had some dubious achievements in the past - for example, Jean Chretien promising to abolish the GST and then reneging, and cancelling the EH 101 helicopter contract at great public expense. Let's not even get started on the Sponsorship Scandal. If you want to go back far enough, who was responsible for imprisoning Japanese Canadian citizens during WW II or refusing to allow Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to immigrate? Hint - it wasn't the Conservatives.

By the way, speaking of gay marriage - let's play a little game called NAME THAT HOMOPHOBE! I'll give you an example of homophobia from the not-too-distant past and you identify the politician.

1. Which Canadian politician wrote a policy paper that included the following: "This portion of the paper makes clear the reasons for my objections to those who would force society to regard homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle and why I see this as the inevitable result of recklessly (albeit with the best of intentions) adding "sexual orientation", howsoever defined, as a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act."
a) Stephen Harper, Conservative PM
b) Brian Mulroney, Conservative PM
c) Tom Wappel, Liberal MP for Scarborough Southwest 1988-2008, candidate for leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada in 1990

2. Which Canadian politician said "Homosexuality is not natural. It is immoral and it is undermining the inherent rights and values of our Canadian families and it must not and should not be condoned."
a) Stephen Harper, Conservative PM
b) Brian Mulroney, Conservative PM
c) Roseanne Skoke, Liberal MP for Central Nova 1993-1997 and one-time candidate for the leadership of the Nova Scotia Liberal Party

3. What cabinet minister said "I promised faithfully to the people of Thunder Bay-Superior North that I would defend the traditional definition of marriage" prior to resigning from the Cabinet rather than support legislation legalizing gay marriage in 2005?
a) Deborah Grey, Conservative
b) Vic Toews, Conservative
c) Joe Comuzzi, Liberal MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North, Minister of State for the Federal Economic Development Initiative for Northern Ontario

4. Which MP quit the party in 2005 rather than support its position on gay marriage?
a) Peter Mackay, Conservative
b) Diane Ablonczy, Conservative
c) Pat O'Brien, Liberal MP for London-Fanshawe, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for International Trade

5. What cabinet minister said "marriage cannot be treated like any other invention or program of government. Marriage serves as the basis for social organization; it is not a consequence of it. Marriage signifies a particular relationship among the many unions that individuals freely enter; it's the one between a man and a woman that has two obvious goals: mutual support and procreation of children (barring a medical anomaly or will). No other type of relationship, by definition, can fulfill both goals without the direct or indirect involvement of a third party ... for most MPs, marriage remains the cornerstone of society, not some government response to the most recent lobby" ?
a) Jim Flaherty, Conservative
b) Tony Clement, Conservative
c) Joe Volpe, Liberal MP for Eglinton-Lawrence, Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development, senior Minister responsible for Ontario and Toronto

If you guessed the answer was C in each case, you're right! OK, that was ancient history, right? The Liberal party has - what's Obama's word for it - evolved since then.

The point is that your own party has social conservatives in it too, many of whom have objections to same-sex marriage. But I won't hold that against you. I certainly don't think that ALL Liberals should be tainted by the opinions of a few troglodytes, no matter how prominent they may have been in your party.
I think that there are many young people out there who are naturally conservative (or at least libertarian) but will never vote for the Conservative Party because the left has successfully equated the CPC with being homophobic and pro-life. To young people, personal liberty is more important than law-and-order and the idea of the state telling them whom they can or cannot marry or whether or not they can have an abortion is anathema.To them, gay marriage trumps fiscal conservatism. Social conservatives disagree and feel let down by the Harper government for abandoning these bedrock issues, but if  the CPC hopes to attract young voters who have small-c conservative leanings, we have to let sleeping dogs lie. Harper's doing the right thing.


paulsstuff said...

Actually a better point to make is that both Chretien and Martin voted against ssm, and it was the supreme court that ruled then current laws were discrimatory.

Anonymous said...

This is what I have telling my friends in the BC Conservative Party. They are all sitting around asking themselves, "What happened?" Let sleeping dogs lie is correct. You will just as much luck taking away the right for women to vote as you would attempting to repeal SSM and pro-choice policies.

Jen said...

Jean Chretien government voted against ssm five times.

Under Paul Martin government, SSM became law.

Stephen Harper who was in Opposition at the time, voted for same-sex union but was voted down.

Bec said...

This was so much fun to read and the wisdom, research and patience, admirable.

Our youth are not challenge enough anymore to do their own due diligence but have simply become copy and paste experts to say nothing of their proficiency at repeating what they hear, not what they know. Likely because 'what they know' is minimal and 'what they hear' is social media and MSM driven. That portion becomes their reality.

Anonymous said...

If the CPC is such a free thinking party then why does it's leader silence his own MPs?

Anonymous said...

"when elected I'll introduce legislation to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman"

Eric said...

April 4 2011 - CTV News

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a majority Conservative government would not move to ban abortions or gay marriage.

During a campaign stop Monday in Welland, Ont., where he renewed his commitment to abolish the long gun registry, Harper was asked if he would revisit either issue if he wins a majority.

"We will govern on the platform we are elected on," he said.

"On the other matters you mention (abortion and gay marriage), they are not in the Conservative platform. I have no intention of opening up those issues."

Anonymous said...

It all just shows he speaks out of both sides of his mouth for the sake of power.

Much worse than the gov't cpc replaced imho, who at least stuck to a set of ideals.