Nunavut’s MP says yes to same-sex marriage

GN won’t do gay weddings until federal law passes

By JIM BELL

Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the Liberal MP for Nunavut, told her constituents last week that, after a long inner struggle, she’s saying yes to Bill C-38, a government bill that would legalize same-sex marriage.

“I am supporting the legislation, as I do not see how I can support discrimination of any kind against another human being on this earth,” Karetak-Lindell said in a long letter to constituents released April 14.

Paul Okalik, the premier of Nunavut, was quick to react. He called in reporters this past Friday to make a public declaration of support for Karetak-Lindell’s position.

“I’m very proud of her stand. As an Inuk, a member of a minority group in Canada, I have said for some time that I do support minority rights and I will continue to do so,” Okalik said.

But he said the Government of Nunavut will wait for Bill C-38 to pass before making provisions for same-sex marriage in Nunavut.

“It’s a federal area of jurisdiction and if the federal legislation is to pass in the next few months, then we’ll perform them. But in the absence of federal legislation, gay marriages cannot proceed [in Nunavut]. So we do hope that this legislation can proceed so that we can move on to other more pressing matters,” Okalik said.

However, Nunavut already recognizes same-sex marriage licences issued in other jurisidictions. Same-sex marriage is legal in seven provinces and territories.

Karetak-Lindell, who like many MPs has been under enormous pressure from opponents and supporters of the bill, said she made her decision on April 12, about 15 minutes before the House of Commons voted on a Conservative amendment to the bill.

That amendment, which was defeated by a vote of 164 to 132, would have upheld the definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Because Prime Minister Paul Martin is allowing non-cabinet MPs to vote freely on Bill C-38, 32 Liberal MPs voted against the government without fear of reprisals.

But Karetak-Lindell wasn’t among them, saying that if the Charter rights of one minority group are denied, then the rights of Inuit and aboriginal peoples might be threatened next.

“My Inuit, aboriginal and minority rights are protected in Canada by the charter and by the constitution of this country. Individual liberty and religious freedom are protected by the charter. If I decide not to defend this right by gay couples to marry, how will I defend other rights that are threatened, like our aboriginal rights?” Karetak-Lindell said in her letter.

Okalik, who steered Nunavut’s Human Rights Act through the legislative assembly in 2003, agrees.

“As a member of a minority group, that is a fundamental issue and I share her concern that to start denying basic rights that have been recognized as Charter rights, then the door’s open. We don’t want to even go there,” Okalik said.

Karetak-Lindell also said Bill C-38 protects the right of churches.

“I was very worried about the churches, that they would be forced to perform any marriage,” Karetak-Lindell said in an interview.

But she said Bill C-38 clearly states that no church will be forced to perform marriages to which they are opposed.

“This is civil marriage, not religious marriage,” Karetak-Lindell said.

Referring to the many people in Nunavut who have lobbied her on the issue, she said there are bigger problems in Nunavut that deserve attention.

“There are many other challenges facing our North and I wish people would feel this motivated about what is crippling our people and communities. Families are being torn apart by issues that we have to confront: family violence, adultery, child abuse of all kinds, gambling and suicide,” she said.

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