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Gay, lesbian marriages in Canada seen under threat
Tue Jan 31, 2006 2:11 PM EST
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada last year became only the fourth nation in the world to allow same sex marriages but that right could be scrapped after the new Conservative government takes power next Monday.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper, who campaigned on the promise that he would allow Parliament to vote on whether to reopen the issue, said last week he "would prefer to do it sooner rather than later, but not immediately."
If Parliament approved the motion, the government would then introduce legislation changing the definition of marriage back to that of a union between a man and a woman. The gay marriage law was brought in by the outgoing Liberals.
Both supporters and opponents say the vote will be very tight, especially since Harper does not control a majority of the 308 seats in the House of Commons.
"There's a real risk that this motion could succeed ... and we need to deal with it," said Laurie Arron of the gay rights group Egale, who calculates that around 150 legislators would for certain oppose the motion.
"We don't want to take any chances. We've got social peace right now. We've got the right to marry and it's working and nobody's been hurt as a result," he told Reuters.
Harper's gay marriage pledge reflects the views of social conservatives who are unhappy that the House of Commons voted last June by 158 to 133 to allow same-sex marriages.
"We're just happy, to be honest, to have a chance to deal with this," said Derek Rogusky of Focus on the Family.
"I'd put it at 140 to 130 (legislators) in our favor. I think we're out in front but that doesn't matter if you don't know where the undecideds are."
Harper stresses he is committed to same sex rights and promises to ensure the 3,000 gay marriages that have already taken place would not be annulled.
Some observers speculate Harper secretly wants to lose the vote and thereby ensure the issue does not dominate headlines, thereby alienating centrist or soft-left voters whose support he will need at the next election to win a majority.
But one leading Conservative said on Tuesday it would be wrong to assume scrapping gay marriage was a vote loser.
"Is it something that would cause huge numbers of people to vote against the Conservatives? ... It is a good issue and I think you'll eventually find we got a hell of lot of votes from people on that issue," the Conservative told Reuters.
Harper is under pressure from groups such as Focus on the Family to produce results.
"If he fails to deliver on this issue, he'll have to deliver on some significant other issue," said Rogusky. One example would be raising the age of consent to 16 from 14.
Rogusky suggested social conservatives might not support Harper next time if there was no movement on issues important to the movement, prompting the senior Conservative to reply: "They are going to support us. They're certainly not going to go vote for the Liberals."
A law changing the definition of marriage would undoubtedly face a series of court challenges. The Liberal government introduced its same sex law after courts in some of Canada's most powerful provinces ruled in favor of gay marriages.
Groups such as Egale say a law banning same sex marriages would clearly be unconstitutional and would eventually be struck down by the Supreme Court. The Conservatives say the courts should respect the wishes of legislators.
"We think Parliament is supreme and we think if Parliament was to take a position by a majority vote on an issue that the courts would not interfere, especially on a social issue," said the senior Conservative.