Andrew Scheer, the newly elected leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, once described a bill that would legalize same-sex marriage as “abhorrent.” The only thing abhorrent about my same-sex wedding this past summer was that — well, actually there wasn’t anything abhorrent about it, as the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada would have discovered had he been there. Surely, the brisket, if not the love in the air, would have won him over.
And if not the brisket, then certainly the fruit table. The fruit table was to die for. (Alas, Mr. Scheer opposes assisted suicide.)
It’s surreal, when you’re a gay person, to think that the least political events in your life — staining your wedding dress minutes after you put it on, walking your dog with your wife on a Sunday morning, starting a family — are nothing but political (or “abhorrent”) to people you’ve never even met before. It’s wild to think these things are of any real consequence to anyone at all —besides, maybe, your mother.
But it’s doubly surreal and, frankly, infuriating when you watch otherwise intelligent, rational people — whose very job is to think critically — express frustration and confusion about why LGBT people are disturbed that a social conservative is now at the helm of a major political party in Canada. Ever since Scheer won the race, the media narrative surrounding his upset victory has gone one of two ways. The first way is just creepy: “Who is this impish fellow with the boyish grin?” The other is cynical and out of touch. Scheer is obviously a big tent conservative, we’re told. He’s going to keep the social conservatives within his own party in line, like Stephen Harper did. He won’t touch marriage equality, abortion, or transgender rights. Don’t be so sensitive.
But we are. Damn right we are.
It doesn’t matter if Scheer said he wouldn’t reopen “the issue,” or that he has nothing to gain politically by reopening it. The fact that we are even discussing “the issue” again is reason to ring the alarm. Because for those of us who want to get gay married and stay that way, use the bathroom of our choice free from harassment, or terminate our pregnancies — these issues are not issues. They are not tax policies that will make our groceries cheaper, or our mortgage rates lower. They are not headlines and they are not talking points on a cable news show. They are the civil liberties that allow us to lead full and happy lives, with dignity.
Even if Scheer doesn’t actively campaign on a socially conservative platform (which I highly doubt he will), the fact that he has made it almost explicitly clear that his personal views on issues like same-sex marriage do not line up with the law of the land, is enough to validate hidden prejudices and embolden bigots. (For further proof of this phenomenon, just look south.) Last year, when Rosemary Barton, host of CBC’s Power and Politics, asked Scheer if he would promote and protect marriage equality, he said that while it’s not an issue he is looking to “revisit and reopen,” “people have personal views on things,” a statement she and many others took to mean that Scheer will respect the law but he isn’t crazy about it.
If Scheer were my mailman or a colleague I’d say fine. No problem. People do have personal views. But public figures don’t. A public figure cannot express a “personal view.” A public figure’s personal views are always public, even if they are cryptic. And so they are always of consequence to the people who will bear the brunt of their influence.
I find it harder and harder, with each passing year, to be patient with and trust the judgment of leaders who care where people go to the bathroom or who cared, not so long ago, who can marry whom. I hope and I suspect that in his new role Scheer will put concerns of this nature to rest. But some of us have no choice but to be vigilant and, yes, sensitive on the off chance that he doesn’t.