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Same-sex marriage -- just not the wedge it used to be

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Prime Minister Stephen Harper

For a couple of reasons, same-sex marriage just isn't the wedge issue it used to be.

First of all, in Canada the prevailing attitude -- even among large numbers people who only a few years ago would have been steeped in homophobia -- seems more and more to be, "Aw, who cares?"

This is by no means meant as a suggestion homophobia no longer exists, or that it's not a serious social problem, only that little by little in Canada today more people are becoming more tolerant in this regard, and as a result same-sex marriage is fading into a non-issue. Every day, more Canadians think, what the heck, live and let live.

Just look at the delighted crowds -- kids and grandparents in tow -- watching pride parades in cities throughout Canada this year. As one suburban Joe Sixpack put it in a local newscast last year: "Why am I here? Hey, I'm gay for a day!"

What's more, there's plenty of reason to hope that as more Canadians live their lives as they wish to live them, a growing number of other Canadians who know them in a social or work contexts will become tolerant of alternative lifestyles.

This reality should be reason enough for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to pray that the social conservatives in his governing Conservative Party coalition will soon shut up about this and find something else to pass resolutions about at their party conventions. They could take their inspiration from the social conservatives in Alberta who actually got the government to change its legislation in 2009 so their kids wouldn't have to have their minds polluted by learning about dinosaurs! (OK, to be fair, they didn't want their kids learning about sexual orientation either, but you get the idea.)

The thing is that for a wedge issue to work effectively, there must be a statistically meaningful percentage of your political opponents' supporters who agree with you on the issue -- even if you personally, as one suspects is the case with this prime minister, don't really particularly care.

Harper, after all, is a market fundamentalist, first, foremost and always. Notwithstanding his much-publicized relationship with a socially conservative Evangelical church, who imagines for a minute that he cares much about anything except making life easier for his corporate friends and getting the rest of us pay for it?

Indeed, that's been one of the secrets to the success of the neo-conservative right's effective use of social conservative votes for 40 years in North America -- they never really address the social conservatives' concerns, because to do so would be to lose the benefits of a perfectly good wedge!

In the privacy of their well-appointed parlours, of course, the neo-cons laugh behind their hands at the ignorant social cons who ignore their own economic well-being and that of their children to vote for market fundamentalist parties in order to vent their anger about things like equal rights for whatever group of citizens they disapprove of.

So if Harper doesn't mind his party's social conservatives getting their knickers in a twist about same-sex marriage at this early stage of his mandate, it's only because it has the effect of keeping progressive voters in hysterics -- thereby ensuring everyone's attention far from his real agenda, dismantling government and reshaping Canada.

If a small group of his supporters mistakenly conclude that this means the prime minister really cares about their nutty causes, well, from his perspective, so much the better!

Still, if a Conservative party convention had voted a decade ago to allow religious groups to opt out of human rights for gay people, lots of religious Liberals and New Democrats might have been tempted by the wedge to change their votes. Nowadays, because people just don't get wound up about this like they used to, same-sex marriage is losing its utility as a wedge.

Indeed, this explains why, when you read the fine print, the Conservatives actually eased themselves a tiny step away from their historical opposition to same-sex marriage at their party convention on the weekend. It used to be that their position was the government of Canada ought to be opposed. Now they merely say their party should be.

Whatever the party's social conservatives thought they were voting for, they were in reality inviting their Parliamentary caucus to ignore their wishes, thank you very much.

If that weren't enough, the other reason that same-sex marriage is losing its utility as a wedge issue is that at the precise moment in history the number of people who feel strong opposition is shrinking to insignificance, the number of people who feel passionately that it's a fundamental human right is growing.

In fact, the number of Canadians who are not gay, but who care about the rights of family, friends and colleagues who are, is growing rapidly.

The impact of this growing group of voters is that as their numbers increase, the wedge tends to turn against parties that try to employ it. If sufficient numbers of voters with market fundamentalist economic beliefs begin to feel strongly in favour of the right of same-sex couples to marry, they may be tempted to vote for socially progressive parties.

For these reasons, it is said here that same-sex marriage will be finished soon as a wedge issue in Canada, even in the most socially conservative regions.

When the Conservative Party of Canada meets again in two years' time, the party big shots will ensure it doesn't darken their agenda.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary. Thank you for choosing rabble.ca as an independent media source. Rabble is a reader-supported site -- visited by over 315,000 unique visitors during the election campaign! But rabble.ca needs money to grow. Support rabble.ca as a paying member or by making a one-off donation .

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