Canada's attempt to legalize gay marriage likely will be delayed until after expected national elections because the government asked its supreme court Wednesday to decide whether traditional marriage meets constitutional requirements. The supreme court already is considering the constitutionality of the federal government's proposed legislation sanctioning same-sex unions, and Wednesday's move gives justices another issue to consider.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said Wednesday's move does not mean the government is wavering in its effort to legalize gay marriage. Rather, the federal government is addressing critics who said it first should have asked the court to rule whether traditional marriage or civil unions meet constitutional requirements, he said. "Our support for same-sex marriage has not changed," Cotler said. "We are aware that there is division in this country."
Canada jumped to the forefront of gay rights in June when it announced plans to legalize same-sex marriages. The decision followed court rulings in Ontario and British Columbia allowing gays to marry.
The Ontario court ruled that the traditional definition of marriage infringed on the rights of gays and lesbians. Then-prime minister Jean Chretien chose not to appeal the ruling. the federal government is expected to introduce the legislation after the supreme court gives a nonbinding opinion on the tentative bill.
Wednesday's move likely pushes back a hearing on the bill until after elections expected to be called by Prime Minister Paul Martin for April. That delay will please members of the ruling Liberal Party who oppose gay marriage and have pressed Martin to alleviate the difficulty of confronting the issue during an election campaign.
In the United States, 37 states and the federal government have laws restricting marriage to a man and a woman. Legislators in at least nine states are pushing for more sweeping measures to ward off any potential ripple effect from laws and court rulings elsewhere.