Canada's ruling party narrowly defeated a parliamentary resolution on Tuesday that was written in opposition to the government's plan to legalize gay marriage, barely overcoming divisions within its caucus. The nonbinding resolution by the opposition Canadian Alliance was defeated on a 137-132 vote in the 301-member House of Commons. While the resolution had no legal weight, it was intended to force parliament members from the governing Liberal Party to declare with their vote whether they support or oppose the government's plan, which has divided the country. Hundreds of gay and lesbian couples have been married in Ontario and British Columbia since courts in those provinces ruled earlier this year that the current definition of marriage as that between a man and woman is discriminatory. The government has not appealed, choosing instead to rewrite the law to define marriage as being between two persons, with no gender distinction. The draft law has been sent to the Canadian supreme court for review before parliament considers it. Opinion polls show that the nation remains evenly split on the issue, and some Liberal Party members of parliament have said they oppose the government's plan.
The vote showed how deep the split goes--Liberals hold 170 seats in the House of Commons but could barely defeat the resolution, which stated parliamentary support for the traditional definition of marriage. The resolution proclaimed that parliament should take "all necessary steps" to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. Introducing it Tuesday, the Canadian Alliance's Stephen Harper said the issue is about supporting traditional marriage and giving parliament a say in the matter instead of letting the courts set policy. "It is about the right of the people to make social value judgments and, more specifically, the right of judgments to be made by the representatives of the people rather than by the judges appointed by the government," he said. In response, Justice Minister Martin Cauchon said the resolution amounted to a call for the government to override human rights. Changing the traditional definition of marriage "is about equality, dignity, and respect for all Canadians," he said.