By CURTIS ATKINS, Ph.D., Deputy Executive Director, ProudPolitics
The posting of a 14-year-old video of Conservative leader Andrew Scheer declaring that same-
sex unions were unequal to the “natural” marriages of heterosexual couples by Liberal MP Ralph
Goodale was, of course, a well-timed political move. With a federal election now just a couple of
months away, it’s no surprise that politicians are digging up their opponents’ dirty laundry and
hanging it out for voters to see. Whatever the Liberals’ political motivations may be, though, the
fact remains that Scheer has done little to prove his views have evolved from the anti-LGBTQ
sentiments he expressed in the House of Commons in 2005.
The content of what was said in the video is itself no great revelation. It’s a matter of public
record that Scheer, like most members of Stephen Harper’s Conservative caucus, voted against
the Civil Marriage Act when it was proposed by the Paul Martin government. The queer
constituency group in Scheer’s own party, LGBTory, was cool to him when he was running for
Conservative leader for this very reason, among others.
In the clip circulated by Goodale, Scheer says that marriage equality can never be seen as a right
under the Charter and that the procreation and raising of children is the “essence” and “primary
focus” of marriage. If two women or two men cannot produce children on their own, then their
unions are “contradictory” to nature and therefore do not qualify as a marriage. In his rather
bizarre analogy, a dog’s tail cannot be seen as a fifth leg just because someone wants to call it
Scheer went even further, though, characterizing marriage equality as a threat to religious liberty. In a forerunner of the bigoted baker wedding cake controversies of recent years, Scheer told the supposedly sad tale of a Knights of Columbus group in British Columbia that was sued after refusing to rent out an events hall for a same-sex wedding reception. In the Conservative MP’s mind, requiring people to treat others with dignity and equality amounted to persecution. Freedom of religion apparently must mean freedom to discriminate.
The things Scheer said were standard fare for social conservatives at the time in Canada; they still are among Christian fundamentalists south of our border. What made his video so jarring to our ears this week is the fact that such talk has (mostly) passed from the realm of acceptable public debate in this country.
The official response from the Conservative Party’s campaign communications team to the video’s resurfacing was to repeat the by now worn-out line that their leader would defend the law as prime minister and has no desire to re-open the debate around marriage equality. Essentially, that’s like saying: We lost that fight and don’t want to have it again. Scheer’s quiet backing for dropping the “one man, one woman” marriage plank from the Conservative platform in 2016 amounted to the same.
By no means does simply avoiding the issue signal that Scheer’s views have changed in any significant way over the last decade and a half. His opposition to extending civil rights and criminal code protections to transgender Canadians—Bill C16—as recently as 2016 suggests quite the opposite. His personal boycott of pride parades only seems to further confirm a continuing commitment to the belief that, even if the law says so, LGBTQ Canadians are not really equal to other Canadians.
Every individual is entitled to their personal beliefs, but when an individual seeks to hold the highest elected office in the country, their beliefs have policy ramifications—they take on public importance.
Of course, it is true that people and parties change. The viewpoints and positions taken in the past don’t necessarily mean they’re still adhered to in the present. But another part of the Conservative response to the release of this old video gives LGBTQ Canadians ample reason to question whether they would be viewed as equal citizens under the government of a Prime Minister Andrew Scheer.
As the Conservative Party was at pains to point out this week, a lot of Liberal MPs also opposed marriage equality in the past, including Goodale, the circulator of the video. The fact that the opposition party rather foolishly answered the Liberals’ charge by attempting to redirect attention to the latter’s past mistakes, however, rather than apologizing for Scheer’s own bigotry just screamed to Canadians: We’re not the only homophobic ones!
This is not a debate about who was most eager to discriminate against and demonize LGBTQ Canadians in the past. This a question of who has evolved politically and come to appreciate all Canadians as equal and valuable parts of our country’s social fabric.
Has Andrew Scheer evolved? Has the Conservative Party?
Only the Tories and their leader can answer that question.