Wednesday, July 13, 2005

The day is Approaching ...

Gay Marriage For All Canada To Be Law Next Week
by Ben Thompson Ottawa Bureau

Posted: July 12, 2005 11:00 am ET

(Ottawa) Legislation extending same-sex marriage to all parts of Canada is expected to be passed early next week by the Senate and immediately be signed into law.

Senate Government Leader Jack Austin has instructed the Upper Chamber to reconvene Monday at 6 p.m. The same-sex marriage bill could be put to an immediate vote.

Despite opposition from Conservative senators and a some Liberals in the appointed upper house the measure is expected to pass with little difficulty.

In a hearing Monday, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told senators that it can't stop same-sex marriage even if it refused to pass the legislation.

Cotler told a Senate committee that the there are no legal avenues to turn back the tide - except the Constitution's nothwithstanding clause.

If the Senate refuses to adopt Bill C-38, court rulings in eight provinces will stand and gays and lesbians would still be allowed to wed practically everywhere in Canada.

``Same-sex marriage would still be the law of the land,'' Cotler told the committee.

``Where a law has been found to be unconstitutional, the only options open to Parliament are to either remedy the unconstitutionality - which is what we are doing with Bill C-38 - or to overrule that court decision by invoking the notwithstanding clause.''

Same-sex civil ceremonies are already allowed in all provinces except Alberta and Prince Edward Island, and P.E.I. has indicated it will also start marrying gays and lesbians.

The federal government has never used the notwithstanding clause, the escape hatch that allows it to override the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

More than one senator shot back that the charter is not a sacred document.

``You seem to worship at the altar of the charter. I do not," said Tory Senator Anne Cools.

The former Liberal described herself as an admirer of the charter's founding figure, the late prime minister Pierre Trudeau. But she added: ``The charter has gone places that Pierre Trudeau never would have intended.''

Provincial courts have overturned traditional marriage because, they say, it violates the Charter of Rights guarantee of equality for all citizens.

The bill sailed through the upper chamber in a 43-12 second-reading vote last week; a similar result is expected in a final vote.

With the bill's passage, Canada would join the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain in legalizing same-sex marriage.

Cotler was peppered with questions from senators about alleged shortcomings in the bill and he answered each one.

Tory Gerry St. Germain said it could lead to ``religious persecution'' of public officials who refuse to marry same-sex couples in city halls and courthouses.

Cotler replied that the legislation, the Charter of Rights, and jurisprudence would all prohibit sanctions against anyone who opposes the bill.

The minister was also asked several times why the federal government didn't just get out of the marriage business altogether and leave it to churches.

Cotler said that would have left a legal patchwork of marriage rules across the country.

He also questioned the morality of such a move.

``In order to deny equal access to gays and lesbians (should we then) deny civil marriage to everybody?''

The Senate debate has been a lively one.

In the hours leading to last week's second-reading vote, one Liberal senator claimed Jesus Christ would have supported same-sex marriage, while a Conservative opponent objected to C-38 being painted as a civil-rights issue.

The bill was sent to the Senate after the House of Commons approved it on June 28.

That landmark vote came after a years-long battle in the nation's courtrooms where the federal government fought gay couples who wanted marriage licences.

The Liberal government switched sides in the debate when an Ontario court struck down traditional marriage laws in 2003.

The federal government agrees with the rulings and has refused to apply what is likely the only legal means of turning back the clock: the notwithstanding clause.

But Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has said he would reopen the marriage debate if he's elected prime minister.

© 2005
with files from The Canadian Press


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