TV & Radio
Jul. 21, 2005. 01:00 AM
Gay marriage now legal, but fight's not over
Supporters celebrate royal assent
Conservatives make post-election plans
OTTAWA BUREAU - Toronto Star
OTTAWA—In a quiet ceremony yesterday afternoon, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin signed a milestone law that makes Canada the fourth country in the world to sanction the equal right of gays and lesbians to marry.
"It's a real relief that this is done, it's through, it's over," said Rev. Brent Hawkes, senior pastor at the Metropolitan Community Church in Toronto, who in 2001 performed the first legal marriage between two men in Canada.
While supporters of same-sex marriage celebrated the proclamation of royal assent, some religious groups vowed to intensify their fight to have the law overturned and the Conservative party made plans to do it.
McLachlin acted in her capacity as deputy governor general yesterday, because Governor General Adrienne Clarkson is recovering from heart surgery.
The new law follows the decisions of lower courts in all but four Canadian provinces and territories that overturn traditional marriage laws. So the effect of yesterday's signing is that same-sex marriages will now be performed in Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.
Earlier this year, the Conservative party tried to delay the Commons' vote on same-sex marriage, hoping to make it an issue for the next election.
That attempt failed, and for the past three weeks, Bill C-38 has made its way through the Senate, where it passed by 47-21 late on Tuesday night.
Nevertheless, the Conservatives say that if they are elected to government they will reopen the issue by introducing a bill to redefine marriage as an institution shared by one man and one woman — the exact opposite effect of the new law.
"We take the view that marriage is a heterosexual not a homosexual institution," Tory justice critic Vic Toews said. "We don't take away rights. This is simply a recognition of a very unique relationship that is heterosexual in nature."
But gays and lesbians advocating for same-sex marriage would see such a move as stripping away rights the state has now said apply to same-sex couples.
"As the saying goes, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance," Hawkes said yesterday. "So we've got to keep making sure that as long as Stephen Harper is leader of the Conservative party, that they don't get a majority, so they can't try to roll this back."
Some Conservatives point to opinion polls and say it is time for their party to abandon its stance against same-sex marriage.
"If the majority of Canadians now recognize this as a rights issue, it's very unlikely that a move to take away rights would be seen as a popular one," said Gary Mitchell, national chair of Conservative for Equal Marriage, a group of Conservatives who are urging their party to support equal marriage.
But Harper has the support of the religious right, which sees the next election as an opportunity to change the government and reverse the law.
"We believe that whenever a government gets away from the people, the next election will punish that government," said Charles McVety, spokesperson for the Defend Marriage coalition.
Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canada Family Action coalition, went a step further, calling Canada's democracy "dictatorial bordering on fascism."
But Mitchell compares legalizing marriage by gays and lesbians to such historical rights moves as letting women vote and allowing Chinese people to become Canadian citizens.
"I don't believe there is any case in this country where a law that has moved equal rights forward has ever been repealed," he said. "Over time, people will grow to understand, even some people who may still at this moment be absolutely against it, I do believe they will grow to understand and accept it."
Additional articles by Andrew Mills