Originally published on Advocate.com December 15 2004 1:00 AM ET
Canadian Conservative Party lawmakers on Tuesday promised a tough fight to protect the traditional definition of marriage, as Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal Party prepares legislation to approve same-sex marriage in the country.
Less than a week after Canada's supreme court issued a landmark ruling that same-sex marriage is constitutional, Conservative leader Stephen Harper said his party will put forward amendments to the Liberal same-sex marriage bill. The amendments would, among other things, define marriage as a union between a man and a woman and would offer protection for religious institutions that decline to perform same-sex marriages. "These positions, in our judgment and according to any of the data that I've seen, represent the clear and overwhelming consensus of Canadians," Harper told reporters.
The supreme court has already ruled that members of the clergy cannot be forced to perform marriages that contradict their beliefs. Harper has said he wants to make that point absolutely clear.
The government bill--scheduled to be introduced in January--is expected to pass by about 25 votes in the 308-seat Parliament, with the backing of the leftist New Democrat Party and the regional Bloc Quebeçois. It's unclear how the amendments might fare. Harper said he will allow his legislators to vote their consciences on the same-sex marriage bill. Most are expected to vote along party lines. Liberal backbench legislators will also be allowed to vote freely, but some 38 cabinet ministers must support the government.
Harper has distanced himself from a call by Ralph Klein, Alberta's Conservative premier, who wanted a national referendum on the issue. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler and NDP leader Jack Layton have said a referendum should not be held on an issue of minority rights. Martin was also cool to the idea,
saying parliament should decide the issue.
Six of Canada's 10 provinces and one of its three territories already allow same-sex marriages. If approved nationwide, Canada would become the third country--along with Belgium and the Netherlands--to embrace same-sex marriage.