Legislation on whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry could be considered by the Canadian parliament as early as the spring, justice minister Martin Cauchon said Thursday. Cauchon spoke after releasing a consultation paper on the subject that asks the Commons justice committee to conduct hearings with Canadians and gauge the appetite for allowing gay marriages.
The issue is sure to divide the Liberal caucus, which is fresh from a public schism over parliamentary reform. Many Liberal backbenchers, some of whom are opposed to allowing same-sex unions, say there are far more important issues to be discussed. The question of whether to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples has been around for some time--Canada's parliament voted to limit access to marriage to heterosexuals as recently as 1999--but it's not one that's officially been put to Canadians. Cauchon said it's time.
"Within the population, I feel that there is an increasing concern on that side," he told reporters. "It's an important social issue, and I do believe that parliamentarians [should] have their say."
The consultation paper provides four options to deal with the question: changing the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples; creating civil unions; leaving the definition of marriage solely in the hands of religious institutions; or doing nothing.