The Liberals’ controversial same-sex marriage legislation has passed final reading in the House of Commons, sailing through with a vote of 158 for and 133 against.
Supported by most members of the Liberals, the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP, the legislation passed easily, making Canada only the third country in the world, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to officially recognize same-sex unions.
But the passage of Bill C-38, once again, came with a political price tag for the government. Joe Comuzzi, resigned from the cabinet so he could vote against the bill – an open rebuke of the government legislation. Comuzzi was the minister responsible for Northern Ontario.
Although he was the only cabinet minister to break ranks with Prime Minister Paul Martin over the controversial plan to legalize the marriage of gays and lesbians, it highlighted the divisions within Canada and within the Liberal party, pitting supporters of equality rights against those who are defending religious freedoms.
For Comuzzi, the decision to resign meant putting principles ahead of the privileges of cabinet. "In 2004, during the election, I promised faithfully to the people of Thunder Bay-Superior North, that I would defend the definition of marriage," he said, explaining his move.
The prime minister said he regretted the decision of a man he called an "old friend," but accepts it because the government must speak with one voice on same-sex marriage.
About the Charter of Rights
The "vote is about the Charter of Rights," said Martin. "We’re a nation of minorities and in a nation of minorities you don’t cherry-pick rights."
The government has moved over the last few months to appease critics both within Liberal ranks and among Canadians at large. Amendments were introduced to ensure no religious group or charitable organization is forced to accept same-sex marriage. But in spite of those amendments some groups remain unconvinced.
Same-sex marriage remains one of the most difficult issues ever to confront Canadian politicians. In large part passage of the bill is the reason the parliamentary session was extended for the first time in 17 years.
But while Tuesday night’s vote closes off the debate in the Commons, the Conservatives insist there is no closure for Canadians who believe marriage should continue to be defined as the union of a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others.
Harper want to revisit the law if elected
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper says if his party forms the next government, the law will be revisited.
Harper made the promise one day after suggesting the adoption of the law lacked legitimacy because it relied on the support of the separatist Bloc Quebecois. Harper said he believes Bloc MPs are the legitimate representatives of Quebec voters. But he argues most Canadians aren’t buying it as a final decision since most federalist MPs are opposed to same-sex marriage.
Harper says a Conservative government would hold a free vote for all MPs on the matter, rather than forcing cabinet ministers to vote with the government.