In an effort to escape, if only momentarily, the ubiquity of the homophobic Stephen Harper’s furrow-browed, Neanderthal chest-thumping, I decided to bury my head in the last place that any member of the Conservative party might tread: I picked up a copy of Scientific American. My effort to escape cavemen was met, paradoxically, with cavemen — this month’s cover story, it seems, revolves around the somewhat controversial discovery of a pygmy human species who lived long after the 25,000 year mark after which had been assumed that we, Homo Sapiens, held the exclusive patent on humanity.

Turns out that, on the Indonesian island of Flores, scientific-types have found what looks to have been our contemporary until 13 millennia ago: Homo Floresiensis. Well, I say congratulations to the Indonesian archaeologists, the only people in the world still unearthing homos; here in North America, at both ends of the political spectrum, we’re still trying to pretend that they don’t exist.

The thundering furor around Equal Marriage (rendered elsewhere as “Gay Marriage,” marking the first time in ages that either happiness or sexual activity were implied to have anything to do with the institution) marks the right-wing’s most spastic, energetic and effervescent, non-zygote-oriented campaign in 20 years of kulturkampfing. Just a month and a half after Christmas, and the Baby Jesus’s non-traditional family structure has been overwhelmed by something else: a Heteronormativity Scene.

The swaggering Harper — reasserting Anglo-Saxon confidence over penis-vagina intercourse for the first time since his people were forced to share the country with a bunch of lusty, wine-filled Frenchmen known for tapping rising sap — has flaunted his lack of style from behind countless press conference podia, his untended coif standing in wholesome contrast to the hypothetical rhinestones bejewelling anal beads across the country. He has cynically courted “Ethnic” communities (often those hailing from countries he wants us to help Washington bomb), promising, for example, Muslims — whose religious texts have been interpreted by some to allow a man to marry up to four wives concurrently — that he will defend “traditional” marriage as a bulwark against polygamy.

One would assume that, in the face of such a blatantly contradictory, homophobic, illiberal, anti-democratic, obscurant campaign by the right, we might see a reinvigorated, confident, accessible and lucid counter from left. One would be wrong, as one nearly always is when one expects invigoration, confidence, accessibility and lucidity from us.

Amidst an unprecedented number of feature articles in serious-minded and highly-touted magazines singing headlines like “We are So Different from the Americans,” “Canada and the United States are Totally Different Countries,” “Holy Shit Look at these Opinion Poll Results,” “Even Quebec is on Board: Americans are Fucking Nuts,” et cetera, the reactions of Canada’s progressives to the Equal Marriage debate seem to be cribbed from our American counterparts’ pathetic “No-Fair-We-Can’t-Win-This-Even-Black-People-Hate-Faggots” strategy.

At the worst, most cynical end, you have those on the puritan Marxist left who wash their hands of the whole affair by denouncing marriage as a bourgeois, corrupt and unsalvageable institution. This strategy is akin to offering this bit of Civil Rights wisdom: “You don’t want to eat at that lunch counter anyway, my dear black friend. The workers there are paid with ‘wages,’ an inherently exploitative component of the capitalist system. Besides, I’ve eaten there before — the food sucks.”

In an exemplary bit of enlightenment, Counterpunch‘s Alexander Cockburn called Equal Marriage a “Sidestep on Freedom’s Path.” Those who might suspect an inkling of latent homophobia in Cockburn’s refusal to defend equal rights may recall the unsigned Counterpunch editorial (normally credited to Cockburn) called “Hitch the Snitch” which enhanced the tattling Christopher Hitchens’s sliminess by — you guessed it — implying that he was a fairy:

    Many people go through life rehearsing a role they feel that the fates have in store for them, and we’ve long thought that Christopher Hitchens has been asking himself for years how it would feel to plant the Judas kiss. Indeed an attempted physical embrace has often been part of the rehearsal. Many’s the time male friends have had to push Hitchens’ mouth, fragrant with martinis away, as, amid the welcomes and good-byes, he seeks their cheek or lips. [Counterpunch, 1998]

Gender identity should have nothing to do with evaluating anyone’s political behaviour; it is, for instance, absolutely immaterial to my own socialist politics that, sexually, I identify as “Trans-Fat” (meaning that I have trouble getting laid from eating too many crackers with tropical oils). What matters is that Hitchens is a Quisling; not whether he’s a Queen.

The other unfortunate, though seemingly more earnest and well-intentioned tendency on the left is to urge everyone to put aside the Equal Marriage issue, and to focus instead on the “bigger picture” — to emphasize that, as so many have rightfully pointed out, “Poverty is a Moral issue.” Peter Prontzos, in his critique of Harper’s agenda, emphasizes the “family values” component of environmental protection, ensuring the health and well-being of our children. These statements are absolutely true, valuable and right.

But the implication, still, is that Gay rights are — to borrow a term from those on the U.S. left who cynically undermined the fight for affirmative action in that country — a “wedge issue.” And we know from the experience of workers and activists of colour what appeals to ignore “wedge issues” means: “Shut up about abortion, language rights, affirmative action, tiered wages, and wheelchair access. We need to emphasize campaigns that white men can get behind.”

And just as for an American labour and progressive movement which had historically based its claims for dignity and rights on appeals to racial privilege it has been difficult to get behind demands for black liberation, a Canadian labour movement whose stock-in-trade has often been an exclusivist emphasis on masculinity — and which had to be dragged kicking and screaming to fight for any kind of women’s rights — is hardly in a position to pound the pavement for the right of gays and lesbians to marry.

The fight for Equal Marriage is a basic issue of Civil Rights, opening up and helping to democratize an admittedly imperfect institution, membership in which happens to be, rightly or wrongly, one of the fundamental acts undertaken by two people in our more than imperfect society. Anything less than total equality means settling for apartheid, meaning that we Homo Sapiens in Canada might come to resemble moral metaphors for our dwarfed contemporaries on the island of Flores.