At least one country in North America is mature enough to fairly deal with the issue. Canadian sensibility triumphs again.
Thu Dec 7, 6:15 PM
By Jennifer Ditchburn
OTTAWA (CP) - The last major threat to same-sex marriage rights in Canada was soundly defeated in the House of Commons on Thursday, with MPs sending the message they don't want to revisit the emotional, divisive debate.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he heard the message and will respect it. "We made a promise to have a free vote on this issue, we kept that promise, and obviously the vote was decisive and obviously we'll accept the democratic result of the people's representatives," Harper said. "I don't see reopening this question in the future."
The question put to MPs was whether they wanted to see legislation drafted to reinstate the traditional definition of marriage, while respecting the existing marriages of gays and lesbians.
That Conservative motion failed 175-123.
In the tense Commons, MPs watched each other carefully to see how the other would vote. Some Liberals cheered as prominent Tories voted to let sleeping dogs lie. Some Conservatives applauded Liberals who did the opposite.
Ultimately, more MPs supported same-sex marriage than in the last vote on the issue in June 2005.
During that charged vote last year, only three Tories voted in favour of expanding the definition of marriage. On Thursday, the number who approved the status quo was 13, including high-profile politicians such as Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon and International Development Minister Josee Verner.
Said Cannon: "The file is finished. We're turning the page."
On the Liberal side, the number of MPs committed to going back to the traditional definition of marriage dropped from 32 to 13. MP Joe Comuzzi, who lost a ministerial post the last time around for refusing to toe the cabinet line, voted against Thursday's motion.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, who himself had two MPs snub party discipline Thursday by not voting at all, said he imagined the result was precisely what the Conservative government was hoping for.
"I think it's over now. I'm pretty sure that Mr. Harper is also pleased with what happened," Duceppe said.
In fact, many Tories had said privately -and publicly - over the last few months that they wanted to get past the same-sex marriage issue and have it done with before the next election.
Tory MP Bill Casey said the vote came as a relief. Casey also went from supporting traditional marriage to wanting to have the matter closed.
"If the vote had gone the other way, we would have spent the next several years with this as the main motivator here . . . so I just voted to move on," Casey said.
But some politicians were questioning whether the Conservatives had something else up their sleeve. Some reports had said the government was poised to introduce legislation to protect Canadians who did not want to perform gay marriages for religious reasons.
Justice Minister Vic Toews and Harper said that wasn't in the cards, for the time being.
"The government has no plans in that regard," Harper said. "If there were any time in the future when fundamental freedoms were threatened, of course the government would respond to protect them. The government has no plans at this time."
The House of Commons has been dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage in earnest since 2003, when the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that barring same-sex couples from marriage was unconstitutional.
Gays and lesbians began marrying in the province, and soon other jurisdictions faced similar rulings and began issuing licences.
About 12,000 gay Canadians, as well as foreign visitors, have been married in the last three years.
The previous Liberal government took the further step of consulting the Supreme Court on whether its own legislation would infringe upon freedom of religion. The court responded that the Charter would protect churches from having to officiate such marriages.
Laurie Arron of Canadians for Equal Marriage celebrated the decision.
"It's quite clear that after three votes in three years in three different parliaments that this issue is settled," Arron said. "It's quite clear there is a growing consensus among Canadians the equal marriage is here to stay."
Meanwhile, REAL Women of Canada, a socially conservative lobby group in favour of traditional marriage, said they would push for a national referendum on the issue.
"Elitist political leaders apparently believe that Canada is still in the twentieth century, where political parties ignored the opinion of the voting public," the group said in a release.
"Arrogant political leaders do not, in fact, know what's best for everyone."
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