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Gay marriage vote coming 
soon: Justice Minister

[PoliticsWatch Updated 2:45 p.m. April 5, 2006]

OTTAWA  — Even though the free vote on gay marriage was not mentioned in Tuesday's throne speech, the justice minister says he still expects a vote will happen in this session of Parliament. 

"I anticipate that, as the prime minister has said, it's not an immediate priority but (the vote) will be sooner rather than later," Justice Minister Vic Toews said to reporters after Tuesday's throne speech. 

On Tuesday, the Conservative government unveiled its first throne speech, which focused primarily on its five priorities, which include cleaning up government and cutting the GST.

However, a number of other issues were mentioned in that speech, ranging from the government's commitment to the Afghan military mission to reopening the Bank Act.

Notably absent were two Conservative election promises that largely appealed to their voting base - scrapping the gun registry and holding a free vote on marriage in the House of Commons. 

Political observers suggest those two items were excluded from the throne speech because they are not popular in Quebec, where Prime Minister Stephen Harper hopes to make gains in the next election. 

After almost two years of dominating the political agenda on Parliament Hill, Parliament approved the Liberal government's legislation enshrining same-sex marriages last summer. 

The government extended the spring sitting of the House and the Senate in order to get the bill passed before the summer recess. 

During the election campaign the Tories promised on page 33 of their platform to "hold a truly free vote on the definition of marriage in the next session of Parliament."

If that motion passed then the government would table legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage. Such a move would be controversial and a political hot potato. 

Liberal MP Dan McTeague, who is among the 26 Liberals who were re-elected that voted against their own government on the issue, said he believes the marriage vote was omitted from the throne speech because the Conservatives are trying to avoid controversy. 

He said he does not think Harper would feel safe holding such a vote unless he wins a majority in the next election. 

"It's safe to say that this won't be addressed in the next year," McTeague said. 

The pro-gay marriage group Canadians for Equal Marriage was so puzzled by the omission that it held a press conference on Parliament Hill Wednesday to ask Harper to clear up whether he planned to go ahead with the vote. 

"Mr. Harper is obviously laying low on re-opening equal marriage," said Laurie Arron, national coordinator for the group. 

"We ask him to renounce his plans to re-open this wrong-headed and divisive debate. If he's unwilling to do that, at least he should say whether he still plans a vote in this session of Parliament."

But a group on the other side of the marriage debate said it remains confident that the Tories will hold a vote. 

"I believe that Prime Minister Harper has made a commitment to bring this before the House before the end of this session and I have no reason to doubt that he will do that," said Dave Quist, executive director of the Institute of Marriage and the Family Canada, in an interview with PoliticsWatch. 

"My read in talking to people, hearing from MPs and ministers - both in the media and in person -- is this is definitely still on the agenda, but the government's priorities are the top five issues that we've heard so much about in the last several months.

He said "reading between the lines" in conversations he's had with MPs his best guess is that the vote will be held in the fall. 

Quist said he was not bothered by the omission of the vote in the throne speech. 

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