One might think that my joy would be unalloyed today.The Civil Marriage Act was passed in the Senate last night, and received Royal Assent today.
Canada now officially in all provinces and territories defines marriage as a union between two people.
In a particularly bizarre bit of last minute asshattery, Conservative senators attempted to introduce an amendment "stating the traditional definition of marriage is between a man and a woman, but that civil marriage is between two people."
Said one of the amendment's supporters: "It would have brought a great deal of comfort to same-sex couples that they would not be perceived as having somehow gained their legitimate rights at the expense of those for whom the traditional marriage of a man and a woman was so terribly important," said Conservative Senator Noel Kinsella, who supported the amendment.
Yeah, right. All us queers and queer-friendly allies would have been so comforted to know that even as Canada finally acknowledged the rights of any two people to get married, the Religious Wrong was trying to have it enshrined in that very law that same-sex marriages might be legal, but they weren't really "real" marriages like those that happen between a man and a woman. Because nothing is real unless there’s a penis in it somewhere - as long as it's nowhere near another penis, of course.
But let's move on. I'd much rather my last thoughts on this Parliamentary struggle be about Senator Nancy Ruth, who danced in the Senate Chamber, and said "the whole country should be dancing."
Unfortunately, the Senate has also given us a very good reason not to dance, but rather to start the next fight for civil rights.
Yesterday the Senate passed Bill C-2, AN ACT TO AMEND THE CRIMINAL CODE (PROTECTION OF CHILDREN AND OTHER VULNERABLE PERSONS) AND THE CANADA EVIDENCE ACT. In an attempt to disprove Stephen Harper's allegations from the last election, Paul Martin's government has now passed an anti-child porn law so vague in it's attempt to catch all the child porn in the world that it may even be illegal to discuss what's in it, unless I can prove in court that I am doing so for a "legitimate purpose related to the administration of justice or to science, medicine, education or art."
So humour me, folks, I'm educating you. Legitimately. Right?
In the Library of Parliament's Legislative Summary of Bill C-2,
one of the problems that has cultural workers and arts organisations across the country up in arms for their right to write is discussed as follows:
Bill C-2 eliminates existing exemptions for material with "artistic merit or an educational, scientific or medical purpose," leaving the statutory defence of a "legitimate purpose related to the administration of justice or to science, medicine, education or art." Bill C-2 further specifies that the material in question must not pose an undue risk of harm to persons under the age of 18. Amendments also broaden the scope of the offence by eliminating the need to show that written materials advocate or counsel illegal sexual activity with children. To satisfy the definition of child pornography, it will be sufficient to establish that the "dominant characteristic" of any written material is the description, "for a sexual purpose," of sexual activity involving a person under 18 that would be an offence under the Criminal Code.
Representatives of cultural workers, particularly writers, have been vocal about this legislation. From a Press Release
released by the Writers' Union of Canada, dated June 20, 2005:
"Real abuse of real children deserves zero tolerance," said Brian Brett, Chair of The Writers' Union of Canada, "but this proposed legislation forces an accused writer to prove that his or her work does not present an undue risk of harm to children. What has happened to the principle of 'innocent until proven guilty'? We are urging the Senate to hold hearings on these issues and not rush through such important and sweeping legislation."A spokesperson for the Quebec Writers' Union said this week:
"They're trying to clamp down on child pornography, but they're going too far by making too loose a definition of it," says Charles Montpetit, chairman of the freedom of expression committee at the Quebec Writers' Union. "Any description of sex involving people under 18 will be considered child pornography. It's absurd because the age of consent in Canada is 14. Between 14 and 18, teenagers can legally have sex but we can't talk about it because that would be child porn."
And let's not for a moment forget that it's young women and young queers of all kinds who often have the most need to be able to explore a variety of writings and imaginings about sexuality, because there's not much representation of sexuality from these perspectives in the mainstream culture.
Canada has a bad history of targeting queer writings with its porn laws. If anyone has any doubts that important explorations of queer sexuality and coming out among youth will be particular victims of this law, then you need to look at the kinds of works that have been challenged in the past and think again.
Just last night I watched an interview with author Susan Swan talking about the indignity of having to defend her well-known bookThe Wives of Bath
from accusations of child pornography under the previous laws, which allowed for a defence of "artistic merit." For those unfamiliar with the book, it explores, among other things, the sexual awakening of two girls in a boarding school. It was a finalist for the Guardian Fiction award and Ontario's Trillium award, and was the basis for the film Lost and Delirious
To say nothing of writers and readers using literature as a way of discussing and dealing with issues of child sexual abuse. Will anyone in Canada be able to see the film based on Dorothy Allison's Bastard out of Carolina
ever again, let alone read the book?
Arggh. I’m disgusted and appalled.
Next up: Watch this space for future posts in which I list the books we own that may well be child porn under the new law. Just to make it easier for the cops to find me. Any other Canadians out there feel like telling everyone what evil works of child porn they're hiding on their bookshelves or among their collections of DVDs?