TV & Radio
Gay marriage vote coming, PM says
But not before the fall, Harper says
Apr. 5, 2006. 05:55 PM
The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper says it will revisit the tumultuous same-sex marriage issue but no action is expected before the fall.
That has stirred protest among those who want them to drop the matter rather than make gay couples endure months of uncertainty.
“We don’t want this issue hanging over our heads,” said Laurie Arron of Canadians for Equal Marriage.
“Live and let live,” he urged Harper after a news conference Wednesday on Parliament Hill.
The prime minister says he’ll keep his campaign pledge to hold a free vote in Parliament on whether to reopen the matter. But Harper has signalled it won’t happen before the Commons breaks for summer vacation.
“We intend to have a free vote of all MPs on this question during the life of this Parliament,” Harper told Radio-Canada.
“My preference is to do this sooner rather than later, but not this spring.”
Gay-rights activists want the Conservatives to abandon what Arron called “a wrong-headed and divisive debate.”
“Parliament has better things to do than roll back the clock on equality.”
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, said this afternoon that he was disappointed with the decision of the Harper government
"I was very disappointed that the Conservatives still have this on their agenda," Hawkes said.
"The public opinion polls have been massively against reopening this. The public don't want it reopened and even the people who aren't in favour of gay marriages don't want it reopened. The potential is to roll back human rights."
He also felt disappointed by the language of "sooner rather than later."
"What exactly does he mean?" Hawkes said.
Emily Turk and Cynthia Misener want to get married with some idea of their ultimate legal status.
“Planning a wedding is stressful enough without the added stress of uncertainty . . . in the political realm,” said Turk.
A wide swath of Conservative supporters eagerly await a chance to restore the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman. However, the Tories have said they will not seek to undo, or redefine, same-sex marriages that have already been performed.
Gay weddings were legalized across Canada last summer after court judgments repeatedly declared it unconstitutional to bar them.
Opponents point out that there was never a fully free vote in Parliament on the bill. Liberal cabinet ministers, including some who were deeply conflicted on the issue, were expected to vote in favour. Previously, Parliament had voted to maintain the traditional definition.
There are also ongoing concerns over the tendency of religious freedoms to be trumped by equality rights when the two clash.
“If the same-sex couples figure there’s uncertainty, there’s lots of people in line,” said Gwen Landolt of REAL Women of Canada, a family-values lobby group that has vigorously fought same-sex marriage.
“What about the question of clergy? What are their rights? And what are the rights of children?”
Landolt says she doesn’t mind if the matter doesn’t come up in Parliament before the fall.
“It will allow us to do more work in the background,” to build momentum, she said.
There’s work to be done to ensure support even among Conservatives, a recent poll suggests.
Environics asked 2,034 Canadians in a phone survey last Jan. 20-22 whether a new Conservative government should bring back same-sex marriage for another vote.
Sixty-six per cent said No, while 30 per cent said Yes, said Keith Neuman of Environics.
Conservative supporters were more in favour but almost evenly split. Forty-nine per cent said the Tories should not have a new vote on gay marriage, while 47 per cent said they should.
Results were decisive among supporters of other parties: 77 per cent were against a new vote, while 20 per cent were in favour.