Three Dollar Bill: Margo’s no Barbara

Margo’s no Barbara

If only Somerville (above) could bitch slap pregnant Mary Cheney
Photo: Joseph Yarmush

I got a ton of phone calls from journalists at the Toronto Star and the CBC when my friend Dr. Margaret Somerville, founding director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from Ryerson University last summer.

I have defended Margo in this column each time she has faced fierce criticism for being a staunch public opponent of same-sex marriage (SSM) and I defended her again when Toronto reporters called wondering what kind of person Margo really is.

"Is she a homophobe?" they all invariably asked.

She isn’t.

Not only do I believe in standing up for your friends, but in a democracy I believe we must always stand up for freedom of speech, whether we like what is being said or not.

Which is exactly the tone journalists adopted when they covered the large protests that greeted Margo at Ryerson.

"You know I had bodyguards for six months," Margo told me last week. "You’ve been defending me all your life! And because [the Ryerson controversy] was seen through the lens of freedom of speech, the media were supportive of me."

Still, I support SSM.

Which is why I called Margo when I learned the Washington Defense of Marriage Alliance – proponents of SSM in Washington State – has introduced a state ballot measure that would require heterosexual couples to have a child within three years or have their marriages annulled.

"Absurd? Very," the WDMA states on its website. "But there is a rational basis for this absurdity. By floating the initiatives, we hope to prompt discussion about [legalizing SSM]. And at the very least, it should be good fun to see the social conservatives who have long screamed that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation be forced to choke on their own rhetoric."

Margo is having none of that.

"They’re confused, to put it kindly," she says. "Marriage creates not just rights for the couple but also for children born from that couple. It gives children the right to a father and a mother, a right to natural origins – something which we didn’t have a choice about in the past since it was the only way."

Margo continues, "[Opposite-sex couples] don’t contravene that natural potential. You don’t have to fulfill it – you [just] can’t contravene it. Why do you get married anyway?"

Meanwhile, the WDMA must gather at least 224,800 signatures by July 6 to put their measure on Washington’s November ballot.

"I think this will be easily defeated," Margo says. "Every person who comes into this world has a right to their own genetic heritage. It’s wrong for other humans to take that right away."

Margo knows I disagree with her. We challenge each other every time we discuss this. But in the end I must accept that what Margo says is rightly protected by freedom of speech, and Margo must accept that my argument for SSM is equally protected by the Supreme Court of Canada.

In other words, we both live and die by the sword.

"I realize my stance on this hurts people and I regret that," Margo says. "But I must stick by it. This is what I believe. Gay people have been horribly discriminated against but SSM is not the way to get rid of those horrible things."


Black Eye Dept. As Canadian, Australian, British and American journalists swarm in Chicago to cover the sensational fraud trial of Conrad Black, I am reminded of Black and his wife Barbara Amiel’s social conservatism.

Back on September 21, 1996, Amiel wrote in her Montreal Gazette column, "The reason homosexual activists want same-sex marriages is to achieve the legal obliteration of any distinction between the normative sexual behaviour of society and the neuropathology of homosexuality."

I was so incensed that my drinking buddy and colleague, the late Nick Auf der Maur, gleefully recounted the time he bumped into Black downtown one day in 1978.

"Let’s go for a drink," Black suggested.

"I know just the place," Nick replied and mischievously led his old friend to the Truxx leather cruising bar above the Stanley Tavern when Montreal’s gay district was still downtown.

"Are you taking me to Sodom and Gomorrah?" Black snapped as they climbed the stairwell. "Let’s go to the Ritz!"

Just then a bouncer slid open the peephole and eyed Black in his pinstriped suit. "You can’t come in here," he spat.

"Then Conrad slipped into civil libertarian mode and said, ‘What do you mean I can’t come in here!’ So I pulled out my city councillor’s card and got us in," Nick told me. "After a drink I offered to go to the Ritz, but Conrad said, ‘No! Let’s have another drink here!’

"He hates it when I tell that story," Nick added.

Which is why it’s worth repeating again.

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