Justice Minister Martin Cauchon on Thursday called on all Canadian provinces to join Ontario and British Columbia in allowing lesbians and gay men the immediate right to marry while the Canadian supreme court reviews proposed federal legislation that would change the definition of marriage to a union between "two persons." Cauchon issued the call after unveiling a draft bill that would make Canada the world's third country to allow gay marriage, the Canadian Press reports. But it could take months before the bill is examined by the high court, then voted on by parliament. So Cauchon asked the provinces to move earlier. "I invite provinces and territories to proceed and act according to the draft bill we have tabled," he told a press conference. Cauchon acknowledged that the historic legislation could crawl slowly through the parliamentary process, facing opposition before its ultimate approval. And by the time the supreme court refers the bill, a new Paul Martin-headed Liberal government could be gearing up for an election call next spring.
Cauchon couldn't say whether the bill will be passed under the current government. But, he said, a change in the Liberal leadership should not affect support for the legislation. "If it's true today, it will be true tomorrow for another (Liberal) government," he said, adding that the legislation could wind up as an election issue. The wording of the legislation, titled the Act Respecting Certain Aspects of Legal Capacity for Marriage, is clear. "Marriage for civil purposes is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others," it states. Cauchon said the legislation takes nothing away from straight couples and merely broadens the definition of marriage for all Canadians. "It's a definition that is generous, a definition that is open, that is based on our values as Canadians," he said. "By expanding the definition to recognize the union of same-sex couples, we are recognizing that all Canadians have equality rights under the charter."
The government has asked the high court three questions in an attempt to build an iron-clad legal argument for the legislation and make it impervious to dissent: Does the act fall within the exclusive legal authority of the federal government? Does the act respect the constitutionally guaranteed rights
expressed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Do the religious-freedom guarantees in the constitution protect religious officials who refuse to sanctify same-sex marriages that violate
their beliefs? The questions are an attempt to ward off resistance from marriage traditionalists and opposing provinces--notably Alberta. The supreme court will likely examine the bill when it reconvenes this fall.