It’s time for Canadians — both those who support same-sex marriage and those who oppose it — to ask Stephen Harper why he feels so compelled to reopen the marriage debate against such long odds for measurable gain by anyone, including him and his fragile government.

My beloved and I aren’t waiting for an answer though. We’re getting married next month, in case Stephen Harper gets an opportunity to call the whole thing off.

My partner and I have been together 11 years. We live in Winnipeg with our daughter, who is five, and our son, four. Until recently, we followed the same-sex marriage debate with interest, though we had no plan to get married ourselves.

We have spent a lifetime building relationships and family privately, “in the space between the laws” to quote poet Alice Bloch.

Meanwhile, judges and legislators have played legal ping-pong with the most personal aspects of our lives. For most of our adult lives we had no choice but to look inside ourselves, rather than to the state, to define our relationships and express our commitments to one another.

Our relationships were not recognized in any official way. On our tax returns we each listed ourselves as “single.” In 1999, laws changed and we became “common-law spouses,” though legal marriage was still not an option. Until 2003, only one of us was the legal parent of our two children.

Four years ago, we successfully fought for changes to Manitoba’s adoption laws to recognize both of us as our children’s legal parents. And in early February — not coincidentally the day after Stephen Harper announced his new cabinet — we decided to marry to affirm our commitment to one another and our children. And, as Stephen Harper says, to stand up for Canada.

Two recent Environics polls, in November 2005 and January 2006, found that 66 per cent of Canadians do not want the equal marriage debate reopened. They want the new government to focus on other priorities such as health, education and child care. An overwhelming majority of Canadians support the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which protects equal marriage.

Last year, just before the vote in Parliament that changed the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, 135 law professors from universities across Canada sent Stephen Harper an open letter asking that he be honest with Canadians about the impact of Parliamentary opposition to same-sex marriage.

Just prior to the 2006 election, the law professors sent Harper another open letter asserting that it would be irresponsible of him to roll back marriage legislation without first referring a draft to the Supreme Court to test its constitutionality.

Legislation that excludes same-sex marriage will almost certainly be deemed unconstitutional. The Supreme Court of Canada has advised, and nine provincial and territorial jurisdictions have ruled, that marriage legislation which excludes same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

Stephen Harper’s only other recourse is to use the notwithstanding clause to override the Charter something that is never done lightly and has never been done federally. More importantly, Harper promised he wouldn’t use the notwithstanding clause in marriage law. Even if he breaks that promise and invokes the notwithstanding clause, it’s unlikely he could pass such a bill without a majority in Parliament and, well, that would be counting his chickens before they’re hatched.

Harper has stated that it would not be legally necessary to use the notwithstanding clause to protect a statutory definition of marriage that excludes same-sex couples. The law professors “strenuously disagree.”

Despite all this, Harper is pushing ahead with a free vote on whether to reopen the marriage debate — sooner rather than later, according to Justice Minister Vic Toews. If the vote favours it, new legislation to somehow restore the traditional definition of marriage will follow.

Addressing Harper, the law professors wrote, “Passage of a law taking away the right to civil marriage from same-sex couples without first testing its constitutionality would be legally reckless.”

It would lead to “legal confusion, a lack of uniformity, and unnecessary, protracted and costly litigation . . . There will be lengthy legal battles as litigation proceeds in numerous provinces and through several levels of court before finally reaching the Supreme Court some years down the road. Undoubtedly, courts will order the government to pay the cost of this litigation.”

Should the government be forced to pay, it would be with taxpayers’ money.

The professors concluded: “The fact that you want Parliament to enact clearly unconstitutional legislation and adopt the traditional definition of marriage without using the notwithstanding clause leads us to suspect that you are playing politics with the Supreme Court and the Charter.”

Harper, I would add, is also playing politics with the lives of ordinary Canadian families.

My beloved and I feel extraordinarily blessed to have found one another and to have brought children into our family. In deciding to marry, we have the blessing of our friends, our families and our faith communities. We feel privileged to live in a culture and a country that step by small step has recognized and redressed many of the injustices we have faced in our individual and family lives for no reason other than that we are lesbians.

Our wedding day will be both a celebration of this era of extraordinary change and the embodiment of it.

That Stephen Harper is so determined to take that away is a measure of the man.