News  Montreal shows solidarity with same-sex couples across the border

With rain-drenched flags and soggy signs, roughly 35 activists marched through the rain Saturday to protest Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, and other heteronormative referenda passed in the November 4 U.S. elections.

Queer McGill organized the protest as a gesture of solidarity with activists demonstrating in the U.S.

Individuals, groups, and organizations, committed to promoting gender equality in Montreal, joined with some people who fought to gain same-sex marriage in Canada. The group united against what Rebecca Dooley, Political Action coordinator for Queer McGill, called “institutional violence against gay marriage.”

“There are different positions in the queer community on whether or not marriage is the goal or whether or not we should be focusing on something else,” said Dooley. “[These bans are] an injustice, and so it’s something we can all be disappointed in, whether you’re Canadian or American.”

November 4 was a bittersweet day for the American queer community and its allies, said Dooley. Barack Obama was elected president on the same day that California banned gay marriage. Obama’s victory empowered minority groups but the bans disempowered the queer community.

The group marched from the Roddick Gates, along St. Catherine, to the American Consulate, where they stayed for about 20 minutes.

“Because of the rain, it was a short protest,” Dooley said. “But it was organized and clear in its message.”

It is unlikely, though, claimed Harold Waller, professor of American politics at McGill, that out-of-state and out-of-country protests will significantly affect voter attitudes on state issues. Protests are more effective in relaying public dissatisfaction, he said.

Waller did not expect same-sex marriage will fare well in the States.

“Because California is the largest American state, and a liberal state, the ban slows down the trend toward acceptance of gay marriage,” said Waller.

According to Daniel Cere, a professor of Religious Studies who testified in June 2005 to a Parliamentary committee studying the bill, the debate in the United States remains significantly more polarized than the debate in Canada ever was.

“In Canada, you could resolve the decision as one political decision at the federal level, but in the U.S. it’ll play out state by state in a series of polarized debates,” said Cere.

Provincial courts struck down the Canadian opposite-sex-only marriage law province by province between 2003 and 2005. Parliament finally changed the definition in 2005 to include same-sex couples, which had an immediate effect across the country.

The change was much easier to achieve in Canada than it is proving to be in the U.S. said Robert Leckey, an assistant Law professor and chair of the McGill Equity Subcommittee on Queer People.

“Compared to the States, Canadian developments took place without significant backlash,” Leckey said, adding that unmarried couples have more rights in Canada and are more accepted, which has made same-sex marriage easier to digest.

“The U.S. constitutional doctrine does not recognize queer people in the same way,” Leckey said. “There are more legal entitlements attached to an unmarried couple in Canada than in the States, and unmarried cohabitation is more socially acceptable in Canada.”