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And they're off

And they're off

EYES ON POWER. Local politico Rui Pires hopes to be Canada's first Portuguese MP and the first MP to be first elected while out. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Homophobia's a card in this game
Prime Minister Paul Martin's effort to push the same-sex marriage issue until after a fall Supreme Court ruling won't keep queer rights issues out of the federal election on Mon, Jun 28 (also known as Toronto's Pride hangover day).

Candidates' stands on same-sex marriage will be a prime target for the rightwing, who will be campaigning to defeat candidates supporting it. Focus On The Family, a US-based Christian group is pulling its $1.5-million advertising campaign championing heterosexual marriage, but is still expected to kick up a fuss about gay rights. Last week, Catholic bishops called on Roman Catholics to take the issue seriously and make it an election issue.

Ted Mouradian, NDP candidate in St Catherines, says the rightwing focus on same-sex marriage will hurt them at the polls.

"This shouldn't be a prime issue; we have health concerns, we have environmental concerns, we have job creation concerns," says Mouradian. "If you look at the polling, gay marriage is a blip in the polls. If the opponents of it use it as a prime election platform, they're going to really lose out because most people don't care."

Yet the possibility of a move to the right - by the Liberals themselves or by the possibility of a Conservative government - has some activists concerned.

"I think the big message is that there is a real possibility of a Conservative government and so it's important to get out and vote," says Laurie Arron, political coordinator of Canadians For Equal Marriage (CEM). "Even if the party or the person that you vote for is not your perfect candidate or your perfect party, if you have some issues with them - better to vote for the lesser of two evils."

CEM is a national nonpartisan group, working to ensure the federal government passes its promised legislation legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. Arron says that CEM is planning a campaign "in which we educate and empower people to take action, and give them tools to take action easily to support candidates who support equal marriage for same-sex couples." Its website, Equal-marriage.ca, lists candidates and their positions on same-sex marriage. Egale Canada, the country's queer lobby group, also rates candidates at Egale.ca.

Reviews of candidates in Toronto's two gayest ridings are mixed. In Toronto Centre, CEM gives Liberal incumbent and cabinet minister Bill Graham and NDPer Michael Shapcott a rating of +10, the top of its five ratings, for actively supporting same-sex marriage. Toronto Centre's Conservative candidate Megan Harris receives +5 for her support of same-sex marriage.

Over in Toronto-Danforth, Liberal incumbent Dennis Mills earns a -10 for his opposition to same-sex marriage, while NDP Leader Jack Layton is rated an "equal marriage hero" with a score of +10.

Graham, currently Martin's minister of foreign affairs, says that his party stands by former prime minister Jean Chrétien's same-sex marriage legislation.

"For the readers of Xtra, I've been a strong advocate for non-discrimination," says Graham. "I would like to be around for the last stage which is to make sure we get the federal legislation to make sure we get same-sex marriage."

Shapcott says the issue is a symbolic one, demonstrating a party's commitment to equality and the governing Liberal's ambivalence.

"[Voters are] worried about the way that a number of members of Martin's cabinet voted with the Alliance motion [last fall to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman]; worried about the Supreme Court challenges. It's an incredibly important issue - and one I am absolutely committed to."

But there are other queer- specific issues at stake in this election.

"There are issues of antiquated laws with respect to sexuality, for example, the Pussy Palace," says Paul Ferreira, an out gay New Democrat candidate in York-South Weston, referring to the 2001 police raid on a lesbian bathhouse night. "In that case, antiquated laws have forced women through the court system. These laws need to be modernized. This is a key issue for the community."

Shapcott lists numerous other issues that queer voters should be concerned about including pension benefits, in particular the federal Liberal's appeal of an Ontario Superior Court decision that awarded pension benefits to gay and lesbian widows who lost their partners between 1985 and 1998.

* Egale Canada is at Egale.ca; Canadians For Equal Marriage is at Equal-marriage.ca. Find out how to vote at Elections.ca.
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