Arts & Life
Canstar Community News
Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/6/2005 (5489 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Two years after the federal Liberals abandoned the government's battle in the courts against gays and lesbians legally marrying, the Civil Marriage Act passed by a vote of 158-133.
There were cheers from spectators in the packed public gallery, but the end to the often-bitter and divisive debate did not come without a cost to Prime Minister Paul Martin. Joe Comuzzi quit his cabinet post as Northern Ontario development minister to vote against the bill. As well, 32 Liberal MPs, including St. Boniface MP Ray Simard, voted against the bill.
There was also a price paid by Churchill NDP MP Bev Desjarlais, who was stripped of her job of transportation critic and punted to the party's backbench for voting against the bill in defiance of party leader Jack Layton.
Bill C-38 now heads to the Liberal-dominated Senate and when it passes within weeks, Canada will join Belgium and the Netherlands as the only countries to have legalized same-sex marriage.
While Parliament has wrestled with the future of marriage for more than two years, Manitoba, seven other provinces and the Yukon Territory have allowed gays and lesbians to marry.
The passage of the same-sex bill came as Martin managed to push the Commons session into overtime. Last night's vote fell on the one-year anniversary of the federal election that created this minority Parliament.
Martin said last night's vote, which ended the spring sitting, was about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
"We are a nation of minorities and in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don't cherry-pick rights," Martin said before the vote.
"A right is a right and that is what this vote tonight is all about."
But Conservative Leader Stephen Harper signalled his party would hold a free vote to return to the traditional definition of marriage as the union of one man and one woman if his party forms government after the next election expected within eight months.
Claiming that the support the separatist Bloc Québécois gave the bill taints the vote, Harper said he is not prepared to accept the verdict from a "minority of federalist MPs."
"Most Canadians are not going to see this as a legitimate way to settle this debate," Harper said.
Three of Harper's MPs -- Jim Prentice, James Moore and Gerald Keddy -- backed same-sex marriage in what was a free vote for the Tories.
But Martin's offer of a free vote for his Liberal caucus did not extend to his cabinet ministers, who were required to back the government's bill.
And while Comuzzi had supported the bill through its earlier stages, he yesterday announced that he would leave cabinet rather than vote to make the bill law.
"In 2004 during the election, I promised faithfully to the people of Thunder Bay-Superior North that I would defend the traditional definition of marriage," explained Comuzzi, who will stay in the Liberal caucus.
"It's been difficult in the last little while, but today's the last day and I (asked) the prime minister today if he would relieve me of my duties so that I could vote this evening in favour of the standard definition of marriage."
Martin said he understands Comuzzi's decision.
"I feel very badly, but I do understand why he has taken this decision," Martin said.
"I must say I'm delighted that he will be running again in the next election. His vision, the fact that he has been a tireless advocate for Northern Ontario, makes him a very, very valuable member of Parliament."
Desjarlais said she voted against her leader, her caucus and her party's position knowing full well there would be consequences.
"I am comfortable with the position I am taking and one I have maintained for a number of years," she said.
"It has been difficult in the sense that any time you go against party policy and caucus, it is difficult. But for the most part, people have been good about it."
Desjarlais said the fact her nomination is being challenged is also directly related to the stance she took against gay marriage.
Grit MP Ray Simard said he felt no pressure at all to back the Liberal bill.
"I was told personally by the prime minister that it would be a free vote and to vote with my conscience and that is what I have done since the beginning," Simard said.
Tory MP Brian Pallister (Portage-Lisgar) said the Commons made a mistake last night.
"Nellie McClung, who was from my constituency, when she fought for equal rights for women, she never in all those years asked for women to be called men," Pallister said.
"To suggest you should call two different types of relationships the same so you can be tolerant is denying difference. And denying difference is not how you display tolerance."
Pallister accused the Liberals of cutting a deal with the Bloc to get the same-sex bill passed before MPs headed home for a summer recess.
"I know my constituents will be disappointed and I certainly share that view," he said.
In December, the Supreme Court of Canada gave its blessing to Liberal plans to allow same-sex weddings.
The 28-page decision from the nation's top court said Parliament has the constitutional right to redefine marriage, but it refused to say if that was required by the Constitution, tossing the controversial issue squarely back into the hands of politicians who settled it last night.
The road to last night's vote began in June of 2003 when Jean Chrétien's Liberal government drafted legislation allowing same-sex marriage and referred three questions to the high court for advice after lower courts in several provinces declared the country's marriage laws were unconstitutional.
Shortly after coming to power, Martin sent a fourth question to the court about the constitutionality of marriage laws in a move widely seen as a way to delay a decision from the court until after the federal election. It was that fourth question that the court declined to answer, saying it didn't want to cause chaos for those gay couples already married.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.