Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Canadian Opposition Party Told Bid To Derail Gay Marriage 'Unconstitutional'

by Ben Thompson 365Gay.com Ottawa Bureau

(Ottawa) A day before the fist major House of Commons vote on the government's same-sex marriage bill, constitutional law experts are weighing in on the legality of Stephen Harper's proposed changes to that bill.

Conservative Party Stephen Harper is pushing for an amendment to the legislation by specifying that marriage must continue to be defined as a union between a man and a woman, to the exclusion of all others but require parliament to recognize same-sex relationships through civil unions.

Today, two constitutional law experts held a news conference in Ottawa to argue that the only way Harper's approach would work is if he uses the Constitution's "notwithstanding" clause.

The clause allows a government to opt out of sections of the Constitution with which it disagrees and must be renewed every five years. Although it has been used by some provincial governments on various issues it has never been invoked by the federal government.

The constitutional experts declared that Harper's amendment to the government's bill is based on the "deceitful and disingenuous assertion" that Parliament can keep same-sex couples from marrying through other means.

If Parliament votes in favor of the amendment on Tuesday, "It would be impossible for this bill to be withdrawn, amended or defeated without requiring the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter being invoked," said Constitutional law professor Martha Jackman.

Harper has previously rejected such assertions.

Although same-sex unions are allowed in six provinces and one territory in Canada, some argue that the bill would benefit those in parts of the country where the same-sex marriages currently aren't allowed.

The federal Liberal minority government drafted the legislation to enshrine same-sex marriage in law after courts in several provinces ruled that gay couples had a right to marry.

Meanwhile, at a Toronto news conference a coalition of religious leaders announced their support for same-sex marriage.

The Religious Coalition for Equal Marriage Rights includes representatives from liberal and traditional faith communities in Canada, including The United Church of Canada, the Canadian Unitarian Council, the Muslim Canadian Congress, the Canadian Friends Service Committee of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), the World Sikh Organization, Canadian Rabbis for Equal Marriage, Metropolitan Community Church, Ahavat Olam Synagogue (Vancouver), Church of the Holy Trinity (Anglican) in Toronto, the Apostolic Society of Franciscan Communities-Canada, and liberal and progressive members of the Buddhist, Catholic, First Nations, Hindu, Mennonite, and Muslim communities.

"We want to dispel the myth that if you are a person of faith, you must be opposed to same-sex marriage," said Richard Chambers of The United Church of Canada. The largest Protestant denomination in the country, the United Church is on record supporting same-sex marriage.

Jane Orion Smith of the Canadian Friends Service Committee (Quakers) says the Religious Coalition for Equal Marriage Rights came together with the common purpose of demonstrating faith-based support for civil same-sex marriage by a wide range of religious groups.

"The diversity of opinion about same-sex marriage that exists within Canadian society is also present within many different faith communities in Canada," said Smith. She said she hopes that today's news conference and the signing of a multi-faith statement and this past weekend will signal to politicians that the faithful do speak with more than one voice on the issue of same-sex marriage.

The coalition took part in weekend rallies to support same-sex marriage in a number of Canadian cities.

Opponents of same-sex marriage also rallied. Some 15,000 evangelical Christians, Catholics and Muslims demonstrated on Parliament Hill on Saturday (story).

Conservative leader Stephen Harper was the key speaker at the event.

vowed that if his party is elected to govern he would would abolish the same-sex marriage law.

Canada's ruling Liberals lead a minority government which could fall at any time. A scandal involving payoffs and kickbacks worth millions of dollars to the Liberal party has engrossed the country. As more details emerge the shaky position of the government becomes more precarious.

Harper wasted no time Saturday linking the government's support of gay marriage to the scandal.

"Corruption is not a Canadian value. Marriage is a real Canadian value,'' Harper said to enthusiastic applause.

Polls show that the Liberal Party is in deep trouble over the scandal.

An opinion poll published Saturday indicated slipping support for the Liberals and Conservative gains that narrowed the gap between the parties to just four percentage points. But, a second poll, published Monday, shows that only 25 per cent of respondents nationwide would vote today for the Liberals, compared to 36.2 per cent for the Conservatives.

With a minority government the Liberals could be forced into an election at any time.

The same-sex marriage bill is likely to squeak-through on Tuesday with a final vote expected next month. But, if the government falls before then, the bill would be dead.

If that occurred, or if it were defeated in a Commons vote, same-sex marriage in more than 80 percent of Canada where courts have ruled in favor of gay and lesbian couples would not be affected.

©365Gay.com 2005

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