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Gay marriage passed in the House; Liberal opponent quits cabinet 

[PoliticsWatch Updated 10:00 a.m. June 28, 2005]

OTTAWA  — MPS  passed the controversial same-sex marriage legislation in the House of Commons Tuesday evening bringing Canada one step closer to being just the third country in the world to recognize gay marriage. 

MPs voted 158 to 133 in favour of the legislation.  

But on the final day the bill was debated in the House of Commons, opponents said the battle had just begun and a long-time ally of Prime Minister Paul Martin resigned from cabinet so he could vote against the government bill. 

The prime minister allowed backbench MPs to vote freely on the legislation and over 30 voted against the government.

But cabinet ministers are compelled to back the government. 

Because of that, Joe Comuzzi resigned Tuesday morning as minister responsible for economic development for northern Ontario, rather than vote to support the bill, which he promised his constituents he would vote against. 

"I committed myself to the people of Thunder Bay Superior North that I would defend the standard, traditional definition of marriage and today on the final vote on third reading I intend to fulfill that obligation to the people that elected me," he said. 

Comuzzi is remaining in the Liberal caucus and plans to run again in the next federal election. 

Comuzzi is one of several cabinet ministers in the Martin government who voted as backbenchers in support of the traditional definition of marriage just two years ago. 

Comuzzi is the second Liberal casualty of the prime minister's effort to get the gay marriage bill passed. 

Earlier this year, London MP Pat O'Brien quit the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent because of his problems with the government's handling of the bill. He has been consistently voting against the government on confidence bills ever since.

On Tuesday afternoon, O'Brien participated in a news conference of gay marriage opponents on Parliament Hill. 

O'Brien said there are "many" on the Liberal side of the House who "have been consistently strong, vocal opponents of this same-sex marriage push and voted that way and they're now in the cabinet. '

"Now it's time for them to step up to the plate." 

At that news conference, Charles McVety of the Defend Marriage Coalition suggested that several MPs that were backing the gay marriage bill were voting "under duress." 

McVety also signaled that just because the bill passes in the House, the battle is not over. 

"This fight is just beginning. So far it has been a hypothetical fight that the government is planning to redefine marriage," said McVety. "Once they actually do the dirty deed, then that's when people will kick into gear and this fight will intensify.

"If there's anything that's good that has come out of this is that we people of faith are unified on this issue to fight Paul Martin and to fight this whole redefinition."

He said the various leaders of faith groups are planning to hold a summit this summer to develop a "structured plan" to have the bill reversed. 

McVety hinted that the action could come during the election campaign. "Our wish is for a pro-marriage Parliament to reconvene after the next election and restore marriage."

Later in the day, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper suggested that the gay marriage issue would not end with tonight's passage of the legislation. 

"There will be a chance to revisit this in a future Parliament," he said. "Our intention is to have a free vote."

A few hours before the vote the prime minister briefly commented on the significance of it on his way out of question period. 

"Tonight's vote is about the Charter of Rights," he said. "We're a nation of minorities and in a nation of minorities it is important that you don't cherry pick rights. A right is a right and that's what this vote tonight is all about."

Before the bill becomes law it must first be passed in the Senate and receive Royal Assent. It is not clear how long that will take. 

Passage of the bill formally ends the business of the House. MPs will return to their ridings for the summer closing the books on one of the most heated and compelling sittings of the House in recent memory. 

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