It's entirely fitting that voting day in one of the most suspenseful federal elections in 50 years should be the very day after the Pride parade. After all, queers have been the stars of the campaign. We are the wedge issue for Liberals and Conservatives trying to use their pro and con positions on same-sex marriage to sashay their way to power. Unfortunately for Stephen Harper and Paul Martin, now they actually have to utter the words "gay and lesbian," a phrase that in the past has made them choke.
Then there's Jack Layton, who can be called our first gay federal party leader, in the way that Bill Clinton was the first black U.S. president.
The relationship between Layton and the gay/lesbian community goes beyond mere acceptance and political support honed during his days as a rookie councillor representing the ghetto - and all those Pride Days auctioneering in Cawthra Park. There's a happy congruence between the collective gay personality and Layton's. Certainly, the NDP leader's love of attention is matched only by that of a Church Street drag queen.
And, unusual among heterosexual men, the NDP leader is at ease with the idea of gay sex, not creeped out at getting too close for comfort. I remember his remarks about a brief stay at the BC home of Svend Robinson last year, before the veteran NDP MP's stealing episode. Robinson himself was absent, and only his partner, Max, was at home to entertain the visiting federal party leader, who left without one of his shirts. This prompted Layton to giggle later about what people would say if they found out he'd stayed with Max while Svend was away - and left minus a garment.
Not surprisingly, the NDP has the most supportive policies on equal marriage. Martin, for all his attempts to suck up to queer voters, wasn't nearly as broad-minded before the election. The Chretien government sent a reference to the Supreme Court asking about the constitutionality of extending marriage to same-sex couples - a query that observers felt the court would easily and quickly answer in the affirmative.
But Martin deliberately complicated matters by adding an extra question about whether allowing civil unions would also satisfy the government's equality obligations. Equality activists saw it as an attempt to safely delay the Court's pronouncement until after the vote, and to palm off second-tier marriage on gays.
Now, however, Martin has become the queer champion. But the Conservative position is virtually identical to what the PM seemed to be proposing.
That makes efforts by the country's leading gay lobby group, Egale Canada, to encourage strategic voting and short-circuit a Harper win extremely risky, not to mention vague, divisive and controversial.
Egale Canada is calling on voters in ridings where there's a chance of a Tory winning to vote for the NDP or Liberal candidate who has the best chance. Sounds simple in theory, but as always in strategic voting, there's the problem of knowing whether the NDP or Liberal candidate is best positioned.
Laurie Arron of Egale says voters can get historical info and current predictions at www.electionprediction. org. Still, he acknowledges that some ridings aren't that easy to call - there's always the danger of guessing wrong and actually helping the Tory.
The strategic voting plan has taken its share of slagging from Egale members. Says Arron, "This is definitely controversial. There's been a lively debate on the Egale listserv. Some people have said that people don't understand what strategic voting means. They ask, 'Do you mean that everyone should vote Liberal?' The answer is clearly no.'
In an effort to simplify a complicated plot, Egale has decided to stay away from ridings where an NDPer is battling a Liberal and the Conservative has no chance of winning. But, of course, there's a whole crew of Libs whose views on gay marriage are pathetic (for example, Dennis Mills, running against Jack Layton in Toronto-Danforth) or completely unhelpful (see Tony Ianno, running against gay rights champion Olivia Chow in Trinity-Spadina). With a Liberal majority of MPs like these, it's hard to see the attraction of a clear-cut Paul Martin victory on this issue.
Like many a Pride Day outfit, this strategic voting scheme may need a second check for wrinkles.