A black man and a white woman stand before a justice of the peace, eager to exchange their wedding vows.

But as they look lovingly into each other’s eyes, the justice of the peace refuses to proceed — because he disapproves of interracial marriage.

This sort of discrimination would be repugnant to most Canadians. It’s also not allowed in Canada. So if the JP, whose salary is paid by taxpayers, refused to do his job and marry the interracial couple, he would be fired.

Last year, Parliament passed legislation confirming the right of same-sex couples to be married by a JP, so they enjoy the same legal rights to marry as an interracial couple.

Stephen Harper wants to change this. He’s apparently ordered legislation to be prepared that would, among other things, allow a JP to refuse to marry same-sex couples. In other words, the legislation would permit JPs to discriminate against same-sex couples in a way that they are not allowed to discriminate against interracial couples.

It should be noted that Canadian law already protects religious groups from being compelled to marry same-sex couples. But, according to a report in The Globe and Mail last week, Harper’s new law is also expected to deal with some remaining areas of uncertainty, such as “the rights of individuals to publicly criticize homosexual behaviour, to take out advertisements that quote scripture demanding that homosexuals be put to death …”

That homosexuals be put to death!

Hard as it is to believe, Canadian law currently provides not a whit of protection for those who hate gays so much they might want to take out an ad quoting a scripture passage calling for gays to be killed.

It seems the Harper government wants to remedy this oversight.

This is astonishing. Imagine the reaction if the government were preparing a law to protect those quoting a passage advocating the death of Jews or the disabled.

The proposed Defence of Religions Act, which the government dismisses as speculation, would be brought forward only if the Conservatives lose a motion this fall to reopen the debate on same-sex marriage.

“All indications are that the motion, which would authorize the government to introduce legislation to repeal the same-sex marriage law passed by Parliament last year, will be defeated by a combination of opposition MPs supported by a few Conservatives,” the Globe reported.

That this new law is even being considered points to the influence the Christian evangelical right has on Harper — an influence he has tried to conceal from the tolerant Canadian public.

Behind the scenes, however, Harper has worked tirelessly to build a coalition of evangelicals, Catholics and conservative Jews, as award-winning journalist Marci McDonald documents in the cover story of the current issue of the Walrus magazine.

Last spring, when the Prime Minister was too busy to meet Premier Dalton McGuinty, McDonald notes that “Harper made time for dozens of faith groups, including a five-woman delegation from the Catholic Women’s League which hadn’t managed to snare a sit-down with any prime minister in 24 years.”

The religious right may well be ecstatic. But my guess is that most Canadians would recoil at the notion of special protections for people expressing hatred — even calling for murder — no matter whether they present these views in the guise of “religion.”

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...