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
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
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)