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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
April 15, 2005

Canadian marriage bill survives, but may not see final vote

Ottawa--Despite division in the ranks and the threat of an upcoming no confidence vote, Prime Minister Paul Martin�s Liberal government on April 13 turned back an attempt to derail a bill allowing same-sex marriage nationwide.

The Conservative opposition introduced an amendment that would have blocked a second reading of the bill unless it defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman but allowed for civil unions.

Four Conservative members of Parliament broke with their party to oppose the measure. However, 34 Liberal MPs voted for it, joined by two members of the Bloc Qu�b�cois. One member of the New Democratic Party abstained from voting.

After clearing this hurdle, the marriage bill is due for a final reading and passage next month. However, it is possible that vote may not happen.

The Liberals lead a minority government, with the staunchly leftist NDP and left-leaning Bloc as their coalition partners.

The Conservatives are threatening to call a no-confidence vote in the next few weeks which could topple the Liberal government, leading to elections as early as June.

If the government falls before the marriage bill is passed, it would die and have to be reintroduced when a new Parliament is convened.

However, even if the Conservatives gained seats in an election, they would be unlikely to attain a clear majority, and the Bloc and NDP would be reluctant to partner with them to form a government.

Even if the legislation is killed by the fall of the Liberal government or fails in a vote, 80 percent of Canadians still have access to same-sex civil marriage through court decisions in seven provinces and the Yukon Territory.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper has pledged that, if his party is brought to power, he would eliminate same-sex marriages. He denies that the only way to do so is by invoking the �notwithstanding clause,� a rarely-used constitutional provision that allows Parliament to suspend court rulings for five-year spans.

Courts in Qu�bec, Ontario and British Columbia, the nation�s most populous provinces, ruled that denying same-sex couples access to civil marriage is a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Canadian equivalent of the Bill of Rights. Courts in five other provinces and territories then followed suit.

Canadian citizenship is not required for marriage, and many Americans gay and lesbian couples have gone to these provinces to marry.

National same-sex marriage legislation was promised last year by then-Prime Minister Jean Chr�tien, and has been pushed by his successor, Paul Martin.

In the previous election last fall, Conservatives tried to use same-sex marriage as a wedge issue, and had a large lead up until a week before the polls. However, after the issue became framed as one of protecting the Charter, the Conservative landslide failed to come off as predicted. The Liberals returned to power, albeit in a minority government.


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