Ottawa--Justice Minister Irwin Cotler introduced his government�s same-sex marriage legislation in Parliament on February 1, launching in earnest the debate over the issue.
The measure, if passed, would extend the right to marry to same-sex couples across the nation. Courts have already granted that right in all but five of Canada�s 13 provinces and territories. The remaining ones are Alberta, New Brunswick, Nunavut, Prince Edward Island and the Northwest Territories.
The measure would also alter tax and benefits laws and divorce regulations.
Canadian newspapers have tried to poll the members of Parliament to predict the outcome of a vote on the bill. Some polls show the legislation with a narrow majority, others say the race is too close to call.
The Globe and Mail, for instance, noted that 139 members declared that they would vote for the law, 15 short of the 154 votes necessary for a majority.
However, only 118 have confirmed that they will vote against the legislation, and almost 50 are listed as undecided, many of whom simply did not respond to the newspaper�s requests.
Cabinet members, who are also members of Parliament, are being ordered to toe the party line, while both the dominant Liberal Party and opposition Conservative Party �backbench,� or rank and file members, are being allowed to vote their conscience.
A relatively small number of Conservative members have indicated any desire to cross party lines on the issue. Gerald Keddy of Nova Scotia and James Moore of British Columbia are likely to break with their party and vote for the bill, and a few other Conservatives have hinted that they might as well.
Twenty-five Liberal backbenchers, however, appear headed to the Conservative side of the aisle for this vote, and the Liberals have a small lead against the Conservatives in the 308-seat body.
The salvation of the legislation may lie with the Liberal Party�s coalition partners, the Bloc Qu�b�cois and the New Democratic Party, both significantly smaller than either the Conservatives or the liberals.
NDP leader Jack Layton ordered his members to vote for the legislation as a matter of rights and the fulfillment of a party campaign promise. Thus far, only one dissenter has appeared among the NDP ranks.
The Bloc Qu�b�cois are also firmly on the side of marriage equality, with only two members saying they will vote against the measure.
In the 308-seat body, the Liberal Party holds 133 seats, the Conservatives 99 seats. NDP controls 19, while the Bloc controls 54. Two seats are held by independents, one is vacant, and the speaker only votes in the case of a tie.
Legal experts believe, however, that even if the bill is somehow defeated, national same-sex marriage is inevitable, judging from the court rulings already in place.
The next step, according to Libby Davies, an NDP member of Parliament, is gay adoption. Adoption laws are the purview of the provinces and territories, but Davies believes Cotler should ask his provincial counterparts to work on the issue, as the laws are vastly different from one province to the next.
In Alberta, gay men and lesbians may adopt their partner�s child, but not the child of a third party. In Nunavut, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, same-sex couples are not allowed to adopt, while the Yukon Territories� law is ambiguous.
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