September 26, 2004

wedding bells ring in Nova Scotia

Nova Scotia legalized same-sex marriage on Friday. This is the sixth part of Canada to embrace equal marriage rights (following Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, BC and the Yukon), so there were no raucous celebrations like we had here in Massachusetts back in May. But there were a lot of happy, relieved, proud couples whose struggle made this day possible. At the top of that list are the named plaintiffs in the case: Ron and Bryan Garnett-Doucette, Ross Boutilier and Brian Mombourquette, and Kim Vance and Sam Meehan. Mazel tov!

Opposition to the decision was muted. The Tory government balked at the chance to challenge it. Justice Minister Michael Baker said "We certainly did not want to waste taxpayers' money." A few Tory backbenchers and the Archbishop of Halifax voiced their opposition, but with more an air of resignation than defiance. They also managed to stupendously, if unintentionally, destroy the biblical argument against equal marriage rights:
"It's just that I don't agree with it," said Shelburne MLA Cecil O'Donnell, who voted against extending government benefits to same-sex couples back in 2000. "It's my biblical understanding on gay sex marriages."

Fellow backbencher Mark Parent, a Baptist minister who represents Kings North, said he had great concerns over where the ruling might lead.

"In the Old Testament, you know, polygamy was the practice," he said. "So how do you then say that polygamous marriages are not valid and that marriage should be two people to the exclusion of all others? On what basis do you make that argument?"

It would be nice if another result of this decision were another nail in the coffin of the image of the Maritimes as an intolerant and ignorant cultural backwater. It's true enough that intolerant and ignorant folk are easy to find from Halifax to Halfway Cove. But they're just as easy to find in Kitchener and Kamloops. Nova Scotia was the first province to pass a same-sex domestic partnership law, in 2001. More broadly, it was the only province in which the NDP outpolled the CPC in this year's election. Those factoids don't make Nova Scotia, or the Maritimes in general, a progressive paradise. But they do, or should, blunt the popular image of the region as a collection of Petes and Joeys from Goin' Down the Road. Here's how Kim Vance put it:
"I think Nova Scotia is a province of tolerance," she said. "There are bastions of conservatism and people who would oppose this, but for the most part we're a pretty respectful group of people."

I think that's about right.