Volume four, Issue 25 | June 30 – July 6, 2005
Canada OKs Gay Marriage
House of Commons approves world’s broadest rights, open to Americans
The Canadian House of Commons voted 158 to 133 on Tuesday night to open marriage to gay and lesbian couples nationwide. Though the Netherlands and Belgium offered marriage to their gay citizens sooner, Canada will be the first country to let foreign same-sex couples marry—as many Americans have been doing during the past two years as gay marriage became legal in eight of the nation’s ten provinces.
“This is a proud and exciting day to be a Canadian,” Equality Canada, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender lobby, said in a statement. “Just days before the Canada Day holiday, we are affirming once again our world-wide reputation as a country that is open, inclusive and welcoming.”
The bill still faces a vote in the Senate, but Canadian Press said that despite an anticipated lengthy debate, it should pass “comfortably.” Other observers have characterized the Senate approval as a formality.
In the United States, same-sex couples can only marry in Massachusetts and, at present, those marriages are limited to state residents. The U.S. government has forbidden recognition of gay marriages performed abroad since passage of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which also gave states the right not to honor legal same-sex nuptials contracted elsewhere. More than 40 states have banned same-sex marriages, with a growing number of them also adding such prohibitions to their constitutions.
Only six years ago, the ruling Liberal Party in Canada under former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien voted to limit marriage to couples of one man and one woman. But provincial courts invoked the federal Charter of Rights and Freedoms in granting gay couples the right to marry, making Tuesday’s vote a test of the document that is essentially Canada’s constitution. Chrétien introduced the same-sex marriage bill before stepping down as leader last year.
“We’re a nation of minorities,” said Prime Minister Paul Martin, “and in a nation of minorities you don’t get to cherry-pick rights.”
More than 3,000 same-sex couples have legally married since 2003 in most Canadian provinces and territories due to court decisions. The only places they could not at the time of the vote were Alberta, Prince Edward Island, and the Northwest Territories. New Brunswick had come on board just this week by provincial court order.
On May 4, the Canadian legislation passed its first reading by a vote of 164 to 137 in the House of Commons.
A few weeks ago, it looked as if the bill would not receive a final vote before Parliament recessed for the summer. Martin’s Liberal Party leads a minority government that came within just one vote of being toppled on May 20 after being weakened by a financial scandal. The Liberals dodged another bullet this week by calling for and winning a snap vote on the budget, another confidence measure, when they noticed that a group of Conservatives were not in the room.
In the end, it was Martin’s minority partners from the Bloc Quebecois and NDP who insisted that, as a condition of supporting the Liberals’ efforts to extend the Parliament session, a vote on gay marriage be allowed. The push for a marriage vote came in the face of threats from the Conservative Party to do everything it could to delay it. This year marked the first time the parliamentary session was extended in 17 years.
Martin made the measure a “free vote” for his rank-and-file Liberal members, meaning they could vote their consciences rather than toe the party line. His 45 cabinet members were required to vote yes, however, and Joe Commuzzi, the minister for Northern Ontario, resigned Tuesday rather than do so.
Tory leader Stephen Harper has vowed to rescind same-sex marriage if his party is returned to power in the next election by allowing a free vote. He made the controversial assertion this week that passage of the marriage bill would be illegitimate because it depended on votes from members of the separatist Bloc Quebecois.
The only way to undo same-sex marriage now, however, is for Parliament to invoke the notwithstanding clause, putting the provincial court decisions that had already opened up marriage to more than 80 percent of the Canadian population on hold for a five-year period—something that has never been done since the Charter of Rights was adopted.
Michael Savage, a freshman Liberal member, gave an emotional speech during the debate saying, “I have not compromised my faith in supporting this legislation. I have embraced it.” He added, “We will send a statement to the world that in Canada gays and lesbians will not be considered second-class citizens.”
Religious right groups in the U.S. from Focus on the Family to the Knights of Columbus poured millions of dollars into Canada in a failed campaign to defeat the bill.
Some right-wing Catholics have noted that the routinely scheduled readings at Masses on Tuesday, the day of the vote, included the Sodom and Gomorrah passage from Genesis, one that is traditionally interpreted to condemn homosexuality but that modern scholars say prohibits inhospitality to strangers. The Catholic critics of the marriage bill issued a statement that termed the coincidence “eerie.”
Catholic Bishop Pearce Lacey of Toronto told LifeSite News, “The Paul Martins of this world will die, and they will have to face the God who gave them life, the same as each one of us. And he’s had his time in the sun, and he certainly hasn’t done a very good job.”
Martin is a Roman Catholic.
A week before the vote, the Supreme Court of Canada accepted a case that will determine if gay partners nationwide are entitled to survivor pension benefits going back to 1985. When the government offered these benefits in 2000, they only extended them back to 1998. The plaintiffs want to go back to the year when the Charter of Rights was adopted. The Ontario high court has already ruled in their favor.