The other day, I was moved by this Colbert King column that made the link betweeen the W.E.B. Du Bois-led civil rights movement at Niagara Falls 100 years ago and the pursuit of equal rights for gays and lesbians and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Beyond the drama of 29 black intellectuals deciding that they were going to shape history, rather than be steamrolled by it, I was struck by this comment on the racism they experienced from hotels on the U.S. side of the border:
At the dawn of 20th-century America, those black men journeyed to Niagara Falls, N.Y., to prepare a militant statement on race and inequality that was to stand in sharp contrast to the conciliatory and accommodationist stance of Booker T. Washington — white America’s favorite black man at the time. Hotels on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls wouldn’t let them register, however. So their demands were drafted in a hotel on the Canadian side of the falls.
In this case, Canadians seem to have helped serve as a conscience for evolving American morality — and may be doing so again.
This is Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin’s eloquent and powerful statement yesterday on Canada’s Civil Marriage Act.
I recommend the entire statement that I only wish someone like John McCain, Colin Powell, Howard Dean, Mark Warner, Bob Dole, or some other icon or icon-wannabe would make, but I particularly liked this section:
. . .some have counseled the government to extend to gays and lesbians the right to “civil union.” This would give same-sex couples many of the rights of a wedded couple, but their relationships would not legally be considered marriage. In other words, they would be equal, but not quite as equal as the rest of Canadians.
Mr. Speaker, the courts have clearly and consistently ruled that this option would offend the equality provisions of the Charter. For instance, the British Columbia Court of Appeal stated that, and I quote: “Marriage is the only road to true equality for same-sex couples. Any other form of recognition of same-sex relationships …falls short of true equality.”
Put simply, we must always remember that “separate but equal” is not equal. What’s more, those who call for the establishment of civil unions fail to understand that the Government of Canada does not have the constitutional jurisdiction to do so. Only the provinces have that. Only the provinces could define such a regime – and they could define it in 10 different ways, and some jurisdictions might not bother to define it at all. There would be uncertainty. There would be confusion. There would certainly not be equality.
And in today’s Kent County News, published in Chestertown, Maryland and a direct descendent of the Chestertown Spy established in 1793 — John Schratwieser was quoted in response to viewing the HBO documentary film Iron Jawed Angels at the 85th Birthday Celebration of the Kent County League of Women Voters in the historic Prince Theatre, as saying that the film “showed what the power and true purpose of a Constitutional Amendment is.”
It’s just very clear to me after reading Colbert King, hearing Paul Martin’s address, and watching this new film on women’s suffrage what leadership is, and what it is not.
— Steve Clemons