In 1969, the Canadian government of Pierre Elliott Trudeau officially passed an amendment to the Canadian Criminal Code decriminalizing homosexuality in Canada.

Since then, Canada has seen enormous progress on the civil rights of gays and lesbians, starting in the early nineties with the federal court lifting the ban on openly gay men and women serving in the military. The nineties also saw Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s government add “sexual orientation” to the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Canadian Soldiers in Afghanistan.

In 2005, the Liberal government passed Bill C-38 allowing gay couples to marry; Canada became the fourth country in the world to do so (after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain). Surprisingly, that same year we saw two men, a Canadian Forces sergeant and a warrant officer get married in the chapel at CFB Greenwood, which was the military’s first gay wedding.

While there is still miles to go in accepting gays into all aspects of Canadian society (especially in Alberta), I take pride in the fact that any Canadian citizen regardless of language, race, gender and sexual orientation can serve in our military and put themselves in harms way for the benefit of Canadians and the rest of the world.

Needless to say, I cringe when I look south of the border and see the same injustice that we thought to rid ourselves of nearly twenty years ago.

In the eighties, President Reagan deemed that “homosexuality is incompatible with military service.” Anyone who came out was automatically discharged. Bill Clinton promised to change that during his first election campaign. After he was elected, Clinton failed on his promise to allow openly gay men and women to serve in the military though through no fault of his own.

Congress overrode his wording of the bill which forced him to issue a defense directive which directed military applicants not to be asked about their sexual orientation. This is the policy we know as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

A gay person can serve in the military as long as they don’t admit to being who they are, forced to stay in the closet under enemy fire (Don’t Tell). I imagine it must be harder to form that all important bond between comrades when the guy next to you in the fox hole doesn’t really know who you are.

It is supposedly illegal for the military to look into the background of soldiers for the purpose of finding evidence of homosexuality (Don’t Ask); given this fact, I find it hard to believe that thirteen thousand service men and woman have been discharged since 1994. Then again, I wonder how many people state that they are gay just to get out of service.

For a country engaged in two wars and a global war on terrorism with a military that routinely fails to meet recruiting goals, it’s rather unintelligent, not to mention discriminatory that a gay or bisexual soldier can’t serve their country. I suppose it’s that age old ignorance, fearing what one doesn’t understand that helped the Republicans filibuster Barack Obama’s latest attempt to overturn the unjust policy last week.

It’s generally not the stereotypical fruity, flamboyant or feminine gay male who signs up for military service; they tend to stay away from guns and violence. Nor is it the stereotypical lip-stick lesbian who goes off to war. Fact is, most lesbians I know could kick my ass to hell and back and have it for breakfast (not that they’d want it).

The brave men and women who join the service in Canada and the United States are there for just one reason and one reason only; to serve and fight for their country. They wouldn’t graduate basic training if they weren’t ready. Believing that gays “create an unacceptable risk to the high standards of morale, good order and discipline and unit cohesion” is utter nonsense.

Judge Vaughn Walker may not be a household name just yet, but yesterday the 9th Circuit District Court judge ruled California’s controversial Prop 8 unconstitutional.   With Prop 8 overturned, it’s very possible that Walker will be remembered for a long time as a key figure in the struggle for gay rights.

Judge Vaughn Walker did just that

“Although Proposition 8 fails to possess even a rational basis,” Walker’s 138-page ruling handed down yesterday on the case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger states, “the evidence presented at trial shows that gays and lesbians are the type of minority strict scrutiny was designed to protect.”

The anti-gay marriage law, which was passed by California voters on a ballot initiative in the 2008 general election, has had opponents from the get-go.   Now, many of those adversaries are rejoicing.   Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneris jumped on the internet to laud the decision while Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno quickly issued a statement that “justice is advancing thanks to today’s ruling affirming Californians’ constitutional right to marriage in faithful, same-gender relationships.”

This follows a Massachussets ruling in July by a federal judge that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law passed under Bush which defines marriage as one man and one woman, was also unconstitutional.   Things are looking up for defenders of same-sex marriage, but does this mean that gay marriage is going to become legal across the board in the United States?

Well, not yet, at least in California.   The next step is most likely going to be the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court followed by the Supreme Court, so don’t expect same-sex marriages to start happening again right away.

While the battle for equality for same-sex partners hasn’t been won completely, this us still a major victory.   With Prop 8 overturned, at least for the moment, there is now considerably more hope than there has been in a while.

Activists can only hope that other courts will see the discrimination inherent in Proposition 8 and want none of it, just like Vaughn Walker did and add their name to his as people helping to bring about equality under the law for all.