House of Commons votes to adopt legislation that will make Canada the third country in the world to legalize such marriages
Tuesday, June 28, 2005 Updated at 9:18 PM EDT
Ottawa â It was fought in courtrooms, in legislatures, in street protests, and one of the most turbulent debates in Canadian history was settled Tuesday with a vote in Parliament.
The House of Commons voted to adopt controversial legislation that will make Canada the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.
Several Liberals marked the occasion by invoking the memory of their party's philosopher king, Pierre Trudeau.
It was the late Liberal prime minister who decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, and whose Charter of Rights and Freedoms became the legal cudgel that smashed the traditional definition of marriage.
Barely two years ago the Liberal government was still fighting same-sex couples in courts across the land.
It changed its tune amid an onslaught of legal verdicts in eight provinces that found traditional marriage laws violated the charter's guarantee of equality for all Canadians.
â(This) is about the Charter of Rights,â Prime Minister Paul Martin said earlier Tuesday.
âWe are a nation of minorities. And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don't cherry-pick rights.
âA right is a right and that is what this vote tonight is all about.â
But there was no unanimity even within Liberal ranks. At least two dozen Liberal MPs voted against the controversial Bill C-38.
One even exiled himself to the backbenches to vote against the bill. Joe Comuzzi resigned his cabinet seat Tuesday as minister for northern Ontario's economic development.
The bill will become official once it receives approval in the Senate, likely within days. With it the barriers to gay and lesbian weddings will tumble in Alberta, PEI, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories â the last jurisdictions where courts have not yet struck down the marriage law.
The legislation applies to civic weddings at public places, like city halls and courthouses. No religious groups will be forced to sanctify same-sex marriages if they don't want to.
But Conservatives promise the debate isn't over yet.
Leader Stephen Harper said he will bring back the same-sex marriage law for another vote if he wins the next election.
âThere will be a chance to revisit this in a future Parliament,â Mr. Harper said. âOur intention is to have a free vote.â
How Mr. Harper might handle the issue is unclear since almost every provincial and territorial government has made gay marriage legal.
The Liberals said Mr. Harper has only one tool at his disposal: the Charter's notwithstanding clause, an escape hatch which no federal government has ever used.
âThey're going to have to at least be honest with the people,â said Justice Minister Irwin Cotler.
âThey're going to have to acknowledge that they want to override the (Charter of Rights), override constitutional-law decisions in nine jurisdictions in this country, override a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, override the rule of law in this country.â
Mr. Cotler now occupies Pierre Trudeau's former Justice Department office, with a poster of the late justice minister-turned-prime minister overlooking his desk.
The Tories weren't sharing their fond memories of Mr. Trudeau.
Alberta MP David Chatters lamented what he described as Canada's âmoral decayâ and blamed Mr. Trudeau's promise of a just society as the start of that decay in the 1960s.
But an Irish-born rookie Liberal MP was quoting Mr. Trudeau's famous line about the state having no place in the bedrooms of the nation.
Michael Savage spoke poignantly about a member of his own family, and described the tolerance that he says makes Canada special.
âI have not compromised my faith in supporting this legislation. I have embraced it,â he said.
âThe fact that we (in Canada) are among the first is not something we should hide. It's something we should celebrate. . . .
â(We are) a nation of equality. A nation of strength. A nation of compassion. A nation that believes we're stronger together than we are apart. And a nation where we celebrate equality. . . .
âWe will send a statement to the world that in Canada gays and lesbians will not be considered second-class citizens.â
One Tory MP scoffed at the Liberals' self-proclaimed defence of human rights. He said the government has failed to protect the rights of children by refusing to toughen child-pornography laws or by raising the age of sexual consent above 14.
âI'm sick and tired of hearing people on that side of the House talking about rights, rights,â Myron Thompson said.
âI can point to dozens of things we've seen in the last 12 years where they have refused to give rights to certain individuals.â
In the last two years, same-sex marriage has gone from being legally feasible to a fait accompli.
After a series of legal challenges the walls started tumbling down on June 10, 2003.
The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Michael Leshner and Michael Stark, a gay Toronto couple, and ordered public institutions like courthouses and city halls to immediately begin issuing same-sex marriage licences.
Scores of same-sex American couples came to Canada to be married. Thousands of Canadians exercised their new right.
The Ontario verdict became written in stone days later, when then-prime minister Jean ChrÃ©tien announced he would throw in the towel in the fight against gay and lesbian couples.
The federal government refused to appeal the Ontario ruling, and the verdict was subsequently repeated in courts in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
When Mr. Martin became Prime Minister, he avoided discussing the politically sensitive issue and punted it off until after the June 2004 federal election.
But he came out strongly in favour of same-sex marriage in the dying days of the campaign. His Liberals were re-elected with a minority government.