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MPs to vote on future of gay marriage law
By Robert Melnbardis
Fri Jun 2, 4:15 PM ET
MONTREAL (Reuters) - The Canadian Parliament will hold a free vote later this year on whether to start the process of scrapping a law that allows gay marriages, Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Friday.
Canada became the fourth nation to legalize same-sex union when the law -- introduced by the previous Liberal government -- was adopted in late June 2005.
The right-leaning Conservatives, who won the January 23 election, campaigned on a promise to allow legislators a vote on whether to look at the issue again. In a free vote, members of the House of Commons are allowed to vote independently on an issue rather than along party lines.
"It was a commitment in our election platform and there will be a free vote this fall," Harper told reporters.
There is no guarantee legislators would vote in favor of re-examining the law, since Harper controls only a minority of seats in the House of Commons. Surveys of parliamentarians suggest most are unwilling to reopen the debate.
Harper promised the free vote after coming under pressure from socially conservative and religious elements inside his party, who oppose the law and say it could lead to polygamy.
"Once you weaken the defense of marriage, you open the door to all sorts of other arrangements such as group marriages," said Diane Watts of Real Women of Canada, who predicted a close vote.
Liberal legislator Paul Martin, who was prime minister when the law was passed, said Harper should be "building on the foundation of previous governments as opposed to essentially trying to tear down foundations that have been built."
Polls show that a slight majority of Canadians support the right of same-sex couples to marry. The vote promised by Harper will be held during Parliament's autumn session, which runs from mid-September to mid-December.
Opposition parties will undoubtedly use it as a chance to paint the Conservatives as untrustworthy social extremists.
This could cause problems for Harper in the next election campaign -- widely expected some time next year -- as he bids to win enough support to gain a majority. The Conservatives currently hold only 125 of the 308 seats in the Commons.
Liberal legislator Keith Martin said the same-sex marriage issue had already been settled in Canada, both in Parliament and in a succession of court decisions.
"I think he (Harper) is doing it as a sop to his far-right neoconservatives that still want to ban same-sex marriage," Martin told Reuters.
Some political observers speculate that Harper wants an early vote on a motion to reopen the gay marriage debate because it will be defeated, thereby allowing him to kill off the issue once and for all before the next election.
If legislators did approve the idea of addressing same-sex marriage, the government would then introduce legislation changing the definition of marriage back to that of a union between a man and a woman.
James Moore, a pro-gay marriage Conservative legislator said he was fine with the idea of voting on the issue.
"It's exactly what we promised, so we're keeping our word," he told reporters.
Harper also said he had not made a decision about an invitation to attend the 1st World Out Games, a gathering of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender athletes who will compete in 35 disciplines in Montreal, July 26 to August 5.
(Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa)
Canada's Conservative government to revisit gay marriage
Fri Jun 2, 12:27 PM ET
MONTREAL (AFP) - Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged to resurrected the divisive issue of same-sex marriage in Canada by holding a free vote in Parliament that could reverse a 2005 law recognizing gay unions.
"The date hasn't been set but it will be in the fall. It will be a free vote ... We committed (to) that in our (election) platform," Harper told reporters in Montreal when pressed on the issue.
In December 2005 during the election campaign, Harper said he hoped to restore the traditional definition of marriage between one man and one woman via a free vote -- in which party members aren't forced to vote the party line -- in the House of Commons if elected prime minister.
His move mainly served to stoke election passions by reviving the debate over the law, which sharply divided the country before it was enacted in June 2005 by the previous Liberal government.
More than 3,000 gay couples have wed since the law was passed. These unions would be preserved, Harper said in December.
But opponents have denounced the proposal, saying Harper would have to override rights enshrined in Canada's Charter of Rights with a never-before used constitutional clause.