Sunday, October 05, 2003

On YFS and same-sex marriage

The members of TBLGAY, the transsexual, bisexual, lesbian and gay alliance at York, hugged, cheered and clapped Tuesday night as the York Federation of Students (YFS) approved a motion to allocate special funding of $2500 to the TBLGAY group for the purpose of advocating for same-sex marriage.

Holding signs proclaiming that “equal marriage is a student issue,” the group was there in response to concerns that same-sex marriage advocacy should not be funded by the YFS since same-sex marriage is not a student issue.

The majority of council members were in favor of the motion, with fourteen of the council members present voting in favor, with only three opposed and five abstentions.

“I think it’s important that YFS take this stand,” said Liisa Schofield, Founders college councilor. Her statement was echoed by VP External Pablo Vivanco.

“If it affects one student, then it is a student issue,” he said.

The motion did have its detractors, who expressed concern that some members of York’s community might not support same-sex marriage.

“We represent all the students and some students might not support it,” said Arts councilor Colin Campbell. “It doesn’t have to do with what is right. We represent a student body.”

Curiously silent was Sandra Pierre, YFS VP Equality who refrained from speaking in favor of the motion, and abstained from voting.

“Abstention is a prerogative of all council members,” she explains.

“Normally, when I am involved in a council motion, I would abstain,” she says, referring to an amendment to the motion which calls upon Pierre to send out a press release noting the YFS position on same-sex marriage.

The motion was brought to the council by Kathryn Waters, YFS councilor and coordinator for TBLGAY, who called the motion a human rights issue.

“To strengthen the [Canadian charter of rights and freedoms] by making sure that all of it applies to all Canadians – that cannot weaken it,” she says.

Susan Gapka, MacLaughlin College councilor, seconded the motion, explaining that equality was an ongoing struggle.

“It was less than a hundred years ago that women weren’t considered persons in this country,” she said, drawing comparisons to the struggle for women’s rights.

The student representatives of TBLGAY were extended speaking privileges at the meeting and called upon the council to support their cause.

“The YFS is a student organization, which in plain English means that you work for us,” said Yehuda Fisher, a 4th year Fine Arts student. “We have signatures on a petition [in favor of same-sex marriage] representing almost every college and faculty in this school…the amount of response we have received from the student body is overwhelming.”

“Pass this motion and show support of a basic human rights issue,” he concluded.

The petition was created in response to the concerns of YFS president Michael Novak at the previous council meeting that there was not enough support for the motion in the general York community. The TBLGAY also distributed statements from a number of student groups, including Winters College Council, Calumet College Council, and the Graduate Students Association which were in favor of the motion.

“TBLGAY issues are student issues,” said Shamini Selvaratnam, acting president of Atkinson Students Association, explaining her council’s support of the cause.

This motion for increased YFS funding is partially in response to a failed motion in the House of Commons which, if passed, would have reaffirmed that marriage is only between a man and a woman. The marriage was narrowly defeated by a margin of 137-132 on September 17th.

TBLGAY has requested the additional funding in order to run an awareness campaign and to lobby members of the government for support of same-sex marriage. The organization will be specifically directing their attentions towards the Liberal party, and plan to demonstrate at the federal Liberal convention in November.

“We know that 52 Liberals voted “yes” to the…motion to preserve the definition of marriage [as solely between a man and a woman] by any means necessary,” the organization said in their written petition to the council.

Waters affirms that the motion, and eventual same-sex legislation, will still protect freedom of religion for those religious leaders who for religious reasons will choose not to marry same-sex couples.

“The freedom of religion is absolutely protected,” she says. She also noted that the YFS passed a motion in 1994 supporting benefits for same-sex couples.

“There is precedent for this kind of action on behalf of the YFS,” she said.


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