You’re an M.P.P., with an election approaching. The last thing you really want to get involved with at this time is something controversial like a gay rights bill, particularly one dealing with touchy issues like “spouse” and “family”. But, the Bill is here, it’s a free vote, so like it or not, you have to deal with it.
You were probably raised with certain stereotypes about gays. You’re educated enough to know by now that those stereotypes are inaccurate, but deep down you’re probably still fairly uncomfortable with the whole idea of homosexual relationships. You have an intuitive sense that other people must feel the same way, so you could lose a lot of support (i.e. votes) by publicly backing something like this.
On the other hand, you like to think that you support principles like equality and human rights, and you have to admit that those gays and lesbians do make out a pretty good case for relationship recognition. I mean, it’s hard to argue that someone shouldn’t get the right to visit a loved one in hospital, or make medical decisions on their behalf, to inherit property from a partner who dies, or get funeral leave to go to their funeral or even claim support from a partner on relationship break-up. So it’s not that you’re totally closed-minded, it’s just that you don’t want to go out on a limb right now supporting something like this, right?
Anyway, you can always fall back on that line about how the “majority” of your constituents would be opposed to this. True, you’ve only received a few hundred phone calls, which still represents only a tiny minority of your constituents, but you can just assume that most of them probably feel the same way, can’t you?
Trouble is, the media doesn’t always seem to share this view. On the contrary, they have denounced the NDP for permitting a free vote, and completely condemned Lyn McLeod for what you’ve got to admit is a pretty hypocritical about-face, given her previous statements of support on this one. (I mean, let’s face it, even the most ardent Lyn-fan would acknowledge that she’s pretty well gone off the deep end in the intensity of her opposition to the Bill. And you must have noticed that there’s not much in the way of actual reasons or rationality in amongst all that rhetoric and back-peddling).
Unfortunately, you’ve misjudged. Perhaps influenced by your early prejudices, you assume that most people share your concerns and that more people will support you if you oppose the Bill. Let’s take a closer look:
Very little. There are few votes to be gained by opposing this Bill, for the following reasons.
True, lots of people may be a little uncomfortable with gay issues. But there are only a few who are so vehemently anti-gay that you’d actually lose their vote if you supported the Bill. And let’s face it, they probably wouldn’t have voted NDP or Liberal anyway.
The religious extremists who have called your offices represent just a tiny percentage of your constituents. Most of the rest of your constituents haven’t called in because they really don’t mind if you support the Bill. Most people are pretty fair-minded and the arguments in favour of relationship recognition really are extremely cogent.
If you support the Bill, there’ll be a few angry phone calls and letters to the Editor, but basically after a month or two the fuss will die down and life will carry on as usual for most people. For most heterosexuals, the passage of this Bill really isn’t going to make any difference in their daily lives. None of them lose anything by it, and the effects will not be readily noticeable.
On the other hand, for those of us who support this legislation, this is more than just an academic issue. We’re fighting for our lives. Our human dignity. Our self-respect. There are many many thousands of us who have invested enormous amounts of time, energy and spirit into this campaign. We will never forget your position on this Bill. If you support us, we’ll support you. If you reject us, there is nothing you will ever be able to say or do to regain our trust or our votes. As we have learned only too well in the course of this campaign, pretty words and vague promises of support are worth little; the final test, the only thing that counts is how you vote when it comes right down to it.
No matter what your policies, what your views on any other issue, none of us can support an individual who won’t recognize our human rights. There are lifelong NDP-supporters, lifelong Liberal Party members, involved in this campaign, people who have given their lives and commitment and support to a party they believed in, and which they thought believed in them. Betray them now, and their support is gone forever.
Your opposition to our rights will not be kindly portrayed by the media. On the whole, we have received very positive media support - and for good reason. No matter what spin you try to put on it, opposition to our rights is perceived to be based on narrow-mindedness and intolerance. Support for our rights is perceived to be based on dignity, respect and political integrity. Very few people have received bad press for supporting this Bill.
Fact: The suicide rate for young lesbians and gays is three times higher than for young heterosexuals. The ultimate cost of discrimination is death. If you vote to maintain discrimination, how can we ever ignore or forgive that?
When it comes right down to it, homophobia just ain’t popular any more.
BILL 167: IN YOUR OWN POLITICAL INTERESTS
(P.S.: It’s also the right thing to do)
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