Normally, a gay pride parade would go unnoticed in Montreal. Actually, in many cities across North America, we have become accustomed to the annual ritual of the multicolored, multi-uniformed and occasionally shocking outfits in favor of gay pride and gay rights. While much progress has been made in the last decade to advance the cause through court rulings and legislation, there remains more to do about attitudes and policies.
On August 18 in Montreal, however, something important happened. The representatives and the involvement of all political parties in both the Canadian House of Commons and the Quebec legislature (National Assembly) were present in some form at the event.
Granted, there was an electoral consideration as gay voters need to be courted. Being absent in this context would have been news. Only Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not present because of his annual tour in the Canadian North. Yet, his government contributed significant funds to make the event happen. His primary opponents in the Canadian Parliament, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, were highly visible throughout the parade route. Quebec Premier Pauline Marois became the first premier in her province’s history to attend such an event. The remaining parties in the Quebec parliament were also there.
We can only applaud such an occurrence. It is a sign that gay rights and gay pride are becoming more a part of the political mainstream in Canada. The Premier of Ontario (Canada’s largest province), Kathleen Wynne, is openly gay. Same sex marriage has been a fact of life in Canada since 2005 when Canada became the fourth country and the first outside Europe to recognize marriage for gay and lesbian couples. To see active politicians of all stripes openly marching in this annual event is a testament to the road travelled.
In the United States, progress has been slower but nonetheless constant. Recent Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8 in California, as well as the Obama Administration’s policy regarding gays in the military, are evidence that the American polity is moving toward greater recognition and greater equality.
In recent months, however, we have seen the resistance in France to gay marriage, and recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved restrictive and discriminatory policies regarding gay rights. While Canada has been a model and America is moving in that direction, there are other jurisdictions in other continents that do not share the same respect and tolerance for gays and the advocacy of their rights. Even in our so-called enlightened democracies, there remain pockets of discrimination and homophobia.
While education is undoubtedly the best instrument to combat prejudice, it is important that civic leaders show the way, and move the needle of progress and equality. This is why non-partisan rallies in favor of gay rights and pride must be acknowledged as a necessary and useful step in the right direction.