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Canada poised to
become third country to legalize same-sex marriage

Canada poised to
become third country to legalize same-sex marriage

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Canada appeared likely to become the third country to legalize same-sex marriage as legislation up for a vote Tuesday in Parliament gained supporters from several parties despite strong opposition from Conservatives and religious leaders. Same-sex marriage is already legal in seven provinces, but the bill would grant all gay and lesbian couples in Canada the same legal rights as those in traditional heterosexual unions. Currently only the Netherlands and Belgium allow same-sex marriage. The legislation, drafted by Prime Minister Paul Martin's minority government, needs at least 155 votes in the 308-seat House of Commons to win approval. While some of Martin's Liberal MPs have said they won't back the bill, enough allies in other parties have indicated their support. There are an estimated 34,000 gay and lesbian couples in Canada, according to government statistics. "I think this is going to be a proud and exciting day to be a Canadian because we are, once again, affirming to the world that we are a country that is open, inclusive, and welcoming," said Alex Munter, national coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage. "This is a victory for Canadian values." Martin, a Roman Catholic, has said that despite anyone's personal beliefs, all Canadians should be granted the same rights to marriage. "I rise in support of a Canada in which liberties are safeguarded, rights are protected, and the people of this land are treated as equals under the law," Martin told the House of Commons. Churches have expressed concern that their clergy would be legally required to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies, with couples taking them to court if they refused. But the bill covers only civil unions, not religious ones, and no clergy would be forced to perform such ceremonies unless they choose to do so. "The facts are plain: Religious leaders who preside over marriage ceremonies must and will be guided by what they believe," Martin said. "If they do not wish to celebrate marriages for same-sex couples, that is their right." The Roman Catholic Church, the predominant Christian denomination in Canada, has vigorously opposed the legislation. Calgary bishop Frederick Henry--who heads up Catholics in the conservative western province of Alberta--has been a leading opponent. "The most overlooked and disenfranchised group in the current debate about marriage is that of children," Henry said in a recent statement. "Families with both mothers and fathers are generally better for children than those with only mothers or only fathers. Biological parents usually protect and provide for their children more effectively than nonbiological ones." The debate in Canada began last December, when the supreme court ruled that passage of same-sex marriage legislation would not violate the constitution. A roster of right-wing groups under the banner Defend Marriage Canada were arriving on Parliament Hill on Tuesday to lobby legislators and protest the bill. "I fear radical social change thrust upon a nation that is not asking for it," Charles McVety, a spokesman for Defend Marriage Canada and president of Canada Christian College, told Canadian Press. According to most polls, a slim majority of Canadians support the right for gays and lesbians to marry. (AP)

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