Canadian Senate Approves Marriage Bill

Now it’s Official – They’re the 4th Nation for Marriage Equality

Ottawa — One of the most raucous debates in Canadian
history resulted in a vote that made Canada the fourth
country to sanction same-sex marriage on Tuesday.

The Senate erupted in a loud cheer as it adopted the
Liberal government’s Bill C-38, which will give gay
and lesbian couples the right to marry in courthouses
and city halls across the country.

The 47-21 vote came after years of court battles and
debate that divided families, religious groups and
even political allies.

The final word in the debate came from a Liberal
senator who read to the hushed chamber an e-mail from
a Yukon constituent.

“You have no idea what a difference it makes to the
human spirit to know that you are treated equally
under the law,” said Ione Christensen, the 71-year-old
senator from Whitehorse.

With that, members of the upper chamber were called in
for a three-minute vote that came just after 11 p.m.
and after three years of political and legal battles.

The bill will become law when it receives royal assent
in a ceremony as early as Wednesday.

"Same-sex, same rights," Liberal Senator Jim Munson
quipped.

As the debate dragged on Tuesday, the Liberals
threatened to invoke closure and call a snap vote on
C-38. But the debate ran its course later in the night
and members stood for a vote.

The country had been almost evenly split on the
legislation, which found its greatest support among
younger Canadians and small-l liberal voters.

But even within political clans the issue created
irreconcilable fissures.

One Liberal MP — Pat O’Brien — quit his party caucus
out of frustration with the bill and Joe Comuzzi
resigned from the federal cabinet.

Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said he will
bring back the debate if he’s elected prime minister.

One Conservative said voters will have the final say
over Ottawa’s decision to redefine marriage.

“Let the country speak at the next federal election,”
Tory Senator Gerry St. Germain said hours before the
bill passed. “Let’s not pass this legislation now.
Let’s wait. Let’s make [the election] a referendum on
this bill.”

The Liberals say only one tool remains at the disposal
of anyone wishing to turn back the clock: the
Constitution’s so-called notwithstanding clause.

No federal government has ever used that provision in
the Charter of Rights, which allows governments to
overrule rights deemed fundamental.

The Tories and Liberals have sparred over whether the
legislation was preventable. A top Liberal senator
said Tuesday there was no end in sight to the
bickering and that it was time to vote.

“There is no point in further postponement,” said Jack
Austin, the Liberal leader in the Senate.

“There are no new issues to be argued, there are no
new positions to be taken.

“I think everyone in this chamber understands that we
have — along with the Canadian people — come to our
own conclusions.”

The Tories were hoping to amend C-38 to say marriage
has traditionally been defined as the union of a man
and woman.

But the government side had two reasons for opposing
the Tory move.

First, they dismissed it as an insignificant and
unnecessary change to the legislation.

But proponents of same-sex marriage had a deeper fear:
that the bill could potentially be scrubbed if any
changes were made at this point.

Amendments would have sent the bill back to the House
of Commons, which is adjourned for the summer break,
only to have it return for further debate in the fall.

Since the Liberals have a minority government, they
could theoretically be toppled at any time and
legislation before the Commons would disappear if
there were an election.

The marriage legislation stems from a 2003 Ontario
Court of Appeal ruling that the exclusion of same-sex
couples from marriage was unconstitutional.

The government had fought same-sex couples in court
but became a proponent of redefining marriage as
courts in Ontario and seven other provinces sided with
gays and lesbians.

Then-prime minister Jean Chretien announced in June,
2003, that he would not appeal the Ontario ruling and
that he would table legislation heeding to same-sex
couples’ wishes.

Bill C-38 would extend same-sex rights to Alberta and
P.E.I., the only two provinces where courts have not
yet struck down traditional marriage laws.

The legislation also stipulates that the new
definition of marriage is only binding on public
institutions like courthouses and city halls.

It says religious institutions — churches, mosques,
synagogues and temples — and individuals can continue
defining marriage as they see fit.

However, some public officials have said they fear
they might lose their jobs if they refuse to marry
same-sex couples because of their personal religious
convictions.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has said those
individuals — and their jobs — will be protected by
the legislation and by the Charter of Rights’s

guarantee of religious freedom.

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