Drowning in controversy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 February, 2005, 12:00am

Liang Qiong is a 57-year-old resident of Vancouver's Chinatown who was living a happily anonymous life - until two weeks ago. That is when a reporter from The Globe and Mail walked into her sweet shop and asked: 'What do you think about same-sex marriage?'

She should have offered the reporter a caramel, smiled and shown him the door. Instead, she shook her head and said that the idea of two men marrying one another was a 'disgrace'. Warming to the subject, she talked about an ancient practice in Guangdong province, where sexual miscreants were apparently 'tied up in bamboo cages and drowned in the river'. Ms Liang said that most Chinese-Canadians would agree with her view.

Whether that is true or not - community leaders say it is not - Ms Liang made the front page of Canada's most important newspaper. The chances are that for many readers, her opinion fits their particular ethnic stereotype, which is unfortunate.

Ms Liang's moment of candour played into the hands of politicians determined to drag Canada's ethnic communities into a cranky national debate over morality and 'values'.

The next day, the letter writers weighed in. Ms Liang should be grateful to be living in a country where homosexuals are not drowned, one wrote. Another said that by framing the debate in such an extreme way, she was actually a poster girl for same-sex marriage. A Korean reader said it was not only the Chinese who were disgusted by same-sex marriage; so were 90 per cent of the Korean-Canadian community.

It is like a national virus. The idea of two men (or two women) living in a state of legal marriage has produced a state of near-hysteria. One religious leader has evoked the image of Sodom and Gomorrah. Last week, talking about government plans to legalise same-sex unions, Conservative leader Stephen Harper drew parallels with the internment of Japanese-Canadians in the second world war, and Canada closing its borders to Jews fleeing Nazi Germany.

'The Liberal Party of Canada is simply in no position ... to lecture anyone about ... human rights,' he said, warning that the law would somehow attack the cultural values of Canadians of Chinese, Muslim or other backgrounds.

The polls show that two-thirds of Canadians support the 'traditional' definition of marriage (whatever that is), and roughly half oppose any legal change in the definition. By some calculations, if there is a 6 per cent shift in public opinion, the government could be defeated on the issue. And Mr Harper believes he can find those numbers among Chinese- and Muslim-Canadians.

But he will not get any more help from Ms Liang. Her days as a political pundit are over.