Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Times, They Aren't a Changing...

Source: CTV News: Tory Ploy Could Muzzle Liberal-Dominated Senate
Source: CBC News: Same-Sex Couples Could Hear 'No' From Sask. Marriage Officials

When I went home this weekend, I had intended to come back and talk solely on the issue of same-sex marriage being challenged here in Saskatchewan, but a very important Federal matter also caught my attention. As such, this will be the first post where I will discuss two issues I feel need to be discussed.

We'll start with the issue of the Senate, since I previously talked about senate reform in a post. The Tories do not like the Canadian Senate, at least, they don't like it how it is now. Throughout the 80s and 90s, the Tories claim that Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien stacked the Senate full of Liberals and now it is next to impossible to move Conservative Legislation through the Upper Chamber.

Well, obviously, there are some facts. The Senate is indeed Liberal dominated, in that there are currently 54 Liberal Senators, 38 Conservatives, 2 Progressive Conservatives, 1 independent Liberal, 5 independents, and 5 vacant seats. (Source: Senate of Canada, Wikipedia) As such, the Tories are right when saying the Senate is dominated by Liberals.

However, after the failure of the Triple E proposal in the early nineties, and no real headway for reform under Stephen Harper; the Conservatives have found a new way to get past the Liberal Senate...Well, kind of.

The way legislation works in Canada is very simple: The House of Commons proposes a bill, sends it to the Senate (if passed), and the Senate sends it to the Governor General for Royal Assent (if passed), or back to the House of Commons to be retooled if if is defeated. With the exception of money bills, however, the process can work backwards with the Senate passing a bill and then sending it to the House of Commons.

Once a bill is sent to the House of Commons, it must be given a sponsor within the House of Commons who will speak in favour of the bill and present it to the House for consideration. This is where the Conservatives found their loophole. The Clerk in charge of the Senate is also in charge of letting Members of Parliament sign up to sponsor a bill from the Upper House; and Conservative MPs have been flooding the office to sign up to sponsor almost every bill; regardless of whether or not they support it.

The trick behind this is that a bill before the House of Commons, when brought down from the Upper Chamber, is automatically defeated if the sponsor fails to show up twice for debate of the motion. So, if a Conservative picked up a Senate bill to end the seal hunt in Canada (an actual motion, by the way) and then failed to show up twice to present and debate the motion, it would automatically be defeated.

See the problem?

Currently, the Conservatives are enacting this method against Private-Member Senate Bills, which are individual bills put forth by Senators and do not reflect either the government or the opposition. The reason the Conservatives say they are doing this, is to increase the odds of Commons Private Members Bills of being heard; since Senate Bills take precedence in the cue of motions to be heard.

However, no one is really buying this explination given by the Conservatives. Regina-Wascana MP Ralph Goodale went on record to remind Conservatives that Commons Private Member Bills are treated the same way in the Senate; where they take priority, and warned that these types of actions could lead to a destruction of private member motions, as no progress could be made on either front.

Goodale also noted that the actions were very much an affront to free speech, and it amounted to nothing more than an attempt to muzzle the Senate. Progressive Conservative Senator Lowell Murray also condemned the actions as corrupting the parliamentary system, and warned that the Senate could very well block government action in retailiation.

Allow me to explain that last point. The Senate, Canada's Second Sober Thought, has the authority to defeat a bill that was passed in the House of Commons. When this happens, the bill is sent back to the Commons to be retooled and then voted on again. In addition to returning bills to the House of Commons, the Senate can also effectively hold up legislation in committee and use other methods to slow down the function of government.

And now, a Progressive Conservative Senator, has warned that such a thing could happen if the Senate is continued to be treated in such a manner. But, no doubt, if such a thing happened our Prime Minister would blame it all on a conspiracy of the Liberal Dominated Senate, even though the movement started from the dust of his former political stripes.

Now, I feel that compounds the Senate issue to a matter in which there is more or less nothing left to say about the issue. And as such, we will move on to the second issue I highlighted as important in my opening.

Saskatchewan was one of the provinces to legalize same-sex marriage outside of the sweeping Federal Bill that legalized it throughout the nation, but we're finding the decision effectively under attack. The Saskatchewan Government, led by Premier Brad Wall and his Saskatchewan Party, have introduced a motion in the Legislative Assembly that will allow Justices of the Peace to say 'no' to same-sex couples if it violates their religious beliefs.

Now, this stems mostly from a case that is already being heard in the courts. A Saskatchewan JOP (Justice of the Peace) refused to marry a same-sex couple, and they promptly sued for violation of their rights. And the JOP's defense? That the union of marriage between two people of the same sex violated his religious convictions and beliefs, so much so, that he refused to marry them.

So, I can sense some people are saying what is the problem? Allow me to explain.

A JOP is essentially a member of the Saskatchewan Public Service Commission, also known as the bureaucracy, public service, or whatever term you chose to use to define the people behind the scenes within the legislative process. Now, as such, one would expect two very important things from this kind of job title:
1. That they provide a public service
2. That they uphold the laws, both provinical and federal, of the job in which they serve

Now, if you use this definition, what does it tell you? It tells you that any JOP who chooses not to marry a same-sex couple, is effectively not doing their job. Let's perform a little experiment.

The next time you have to deal with your boss, trying explaining to them that you can't peform a certain part of your job because if violates a belief that you have. (In reality, I've actually done this when it comes to the process of 'upselling' a customer.) Watch your boss' reaction, and see if you still have a job in the morning.

A JOP is not a religious official, they are a government official; and as such, they have no business bringing in their religious beliefs to their position. I'm not saying that they can't have beliefs, religious or otherwise as a JOP, but they must accept they are employed by the Government and not the Church, and as such they must uphold the rules and regulations of the Government while acting as its representative.

What do I mean by that?
God's Law (According to some people): Man + Woman = marriage; and is the only right kind of marriage.
Government Law: Marriage is any kind of legal union between two persons; ex] man and woman, woman and woman, man and man.

Now, as a government representative, you'd be expected to uphold the government viewpoint and be required to marry any loving couple that came to you expecting to be wed. From God's Law viewpoint, you'd likely be a minster within a church and wouldn't have to perform same-sex marriages unless you wanted to, since some denominations do.

Effectively, a JOP must follow the government laws in regards to marriage, they cannot claim to follow God's Law as a means to deny a legally behind contract to anyone.

Now, I hear some people saying, 'so what if one person says no? There are plenty of JOPs to officiate if someone else doesn't want to.' The problem with this, coincidentally, is the same problem that is enshrined by this bill.

By allowing someone to say no to following the law, and in fact creating a law that allows them to circumvent another law, the government is effectively enshrining discrimination into marriage law. Allow me to explain.

There is commonly the phrase, 'second class citizen' thrown around when it comes to any movement attempting to achieve rights. By allowing a JOP to say no to a same-sex couple, and legally allowing it, the Sask Party Government will effectively turn homosexuals into second class citizens. This is because a JOP rejecting a same-sex marriage would likely never reject a hetrosexual marriage on the same grounds...Nor would they reject an interracial marriage.

By allowing someone to say no to something, the government will effectively push homosexuals back in their pursuit of equal rights.

Frankly, I can see where the Sask Party might believe where they are coming from using a very old argument: How can you claim to protect one person's rights while taking away someone elses?

In this case, the argument would be this: Homosexuals have the right to get married, but people also have the right to religious freedom. To force a person to marry homosexual couples, against their religious freedom, you are compromising their rights.

It's almost a convinicing argument, almost, until you consider one very important fact. A person chooses to be a JOP, a person does not chose to be a homosexual. As such, you are saying that person who choose a life of being a JOP and also a life of spirituality, has more reason to have rights than a distinct individual who was born a certain way.

If a JOP has such a problem with same-sex marriage, then they have no right being a JOP and should resign. As mentioned, being a JOP means following the laws of the province and nation, and those laws include the allowing of same-sex marriage. Rather than attempting to force religion into a place where it does not belong, especially given that there are religious forms of marriage outside of 'state' marriage, and attempting to enshrine homosexuals as second class citizens who can have their rights violated at the whim of a JOP who refuses to recognize a legal union, these people should retire their commission and accept that there times have changed.

But like they say, the more things change the more they stay the same. Same-sex marriage has only been a reality for a short time, and there will be issues that will challenge it for years to come. There will be attempt to take it away, as Conservatives attempted to do after being elected, and attempts to restrict it, as is happening in Saskatchewan now.

These challenges, like any other challenge, will only make the issue stronger and make it that much harder to take away. And for that, perhaps the cost of fighting for these rights to continue to exist, unabashed and recognized like any hetrosexual marriage, will almost make it worth it.

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