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Parliament will revisit same-sex marriage this fall: PM

[PoliticsWatch posted 5:55 p.m. June 2, 2006]

OTTAWA  — The issue of gay marriage is back on the national agenda.  
 
Prime Minister Stephen Harper effectively reopened the debate on Friday when he told reporters in Montreal that the House of Commons will hold a free vote on a motion this fall on whether to revisit the issue. 

"A vote will be in the fall," Harper said. "It will be a free vote. We committed to that in our platform." 

In its election platform, the Conservatives committed to "hold a truly free vote on the definition of marriage in the next session of Parliament. If the resolution is passed, the government will introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage while respecting existing same-sex marriages."

Last summer, the Senate gave Royal Assent to Bill C-38, which was the Martin government's same-sex marriage legislation. 

That vote appeared to bring to an end a divisive debate in federal politics that had been going on for more than two years after an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling in favour of same-sex marriages. 

Former prime minister Paul Martin made the vote free for his backbench MPs, but not for his cabinet ministers. Many of those cabinet ministers had voted for the traditional definition of marriage in previous votes in the House of Commons.

This included key Martin allies, such as Joe Volpe and Tony Valeri, who reversed their position once in cabinet.

One cabinet minister, Joe Comuzzi, resigned from cabinet shortly before the vote because it would have violated an election promise he made to constituents. 

Harper is promising a free vote for all MPs and says he will not whip his cabinet. 

Martin met with reporters on Friday to discuss his private member's bill on the Kelowna accord, but he responded to PoliticsWatch's question about his response to the PM's announcement earlier in the day. 

"This is a Charter question and a very important Charter question," the former PM said. "I think that if this happens, what the government would be attempting to be putting in place is in fact a series of measures which could conceivably lead to the use of the notwithstanding clause. And my position is very clear that the notwithstanding clause should not be used and in fact that the legislation that we brought in in terms of same-sex marriage should stand."

Martin went on to say that he does not understand the positions the Conservatives are taking on a range of issues, including marriage, the Kelowna Accord and child care. 

"These were major steps forward and I believe in fact that what the government ought to be doing is building on the foundations of previous governments as opposed to essentially trying to tear down the foundations that have been built," he added.

Harper's comments come just two days after a number of Conservative MPs told the Canadian Press they were not anxious to reopen the gay marriage debate. 

This included several who voted against Bill C-38 just last year. 

"Personally, I have mixed feelings on that ..." Tory MP James Rajotte told CP this week.

"I recognize that same-sex marriage has been the law in Canada for some time now, and I also recognize the difficulty in reversing it to the point where traditional marriage is the only legal union in Canada," he said. 

"For that reason I would say I'm undecided about it, but I'm thinking seriously about it now." 

In the last gay marriage vote in the House, four Tory MPs voted with the government in support of the government's legislation -- Belinda Stronach, James Moore, Jim Prentice and Gerald Keddy

Stronach is now with the Liberals, but the other three were re-elected. 

In addition, the Tory caucus has a number of new MPs who are also in favour of gay marriage, including Tory MP Garth Turner, who has become embroiled in a war of words with Defend Marriage, a group in favour of the traditional definition of marriage that is considering targeting the next riding nominations of Tories on the other side of the debate. 

"When one religious or cultural group engineers a coup, overwhelming existing political party members and workers, and replacing a politician elected by a plurality of people with a single-issue monochromatic militant, well, kiss democracy goodbye," Turner wrote on his blog on May 26.

"Call it Defend Marriage Canada. Call it the Taliban."

There was much confusion earlier this year when the government introduced its throne speech but did not mention revisiting gay marriage. 

The pro-gay marriage group Canadians for Equal Marriage was so puzzled by the omission that it held a press conference 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," Laurie Arron, national coordinator for the group, said in April.

But groups in favour of the traditional definition of marriage told PoliticsWatch at the time that they were confident Harper would live up to his election commitment. 

The vote will likely be close, but groups who support gay marriages said they are confident they have the numbers to defeat a motion to reopen the marriage law.

: Related Links

> Gay marriage vote coming soon- Justice Minister

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