Canada Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage Bill as Country Remains Divided

One of the most tumultuous debates in Canadian history effectively came to an end on Tuesday when the Senate voted in favour of same-sex marriage; a move that will make Canada the fourth country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage.

The adoption of the Liberal Government’s Bill C-38 by 47 - 21 was met with a number of cheers of approval within the Senate, but not without having first divided the country, families, religious groups and Parliament itself.

In the course of the debate three senators have abstained, and there are now 95 sitting senators and 10 vacancies.

The bill, which will become law after it is given royal ascent, allows all gay and lesbian couples to marry in courthouses and city halls right across Canada.

Ione Christensen, the 71-year-old senator from Whitehorse, said: "You have no idea what a difference it makes to the human spirit to know that you are treated equally under the law."

In addition, a liberal Senator Jim Munson said, "Same-sex, same rights."

After arduous debating on the issue on Tuesday, the Liberals had actually threatened to invoke closure and call a snap vote on C-38, before finally managing to call the vote.

The bill was passed not without the cost of some party fealty, with one Liberal MP, Pat O’ Brien, quitting his party caucus in opposition to the bill. Joe Commuzzi followed just before the vote in the House of Commons, the lower house of the Canadian Parliament, resigning from the federal Cabinet.

Tory Senator Gerry St. Germain said that the next federal election would confirm the views of voters on the issue.

He said: "Let the country speak at the next federal election. Let’s not pass this legislation now. Let’s wait. Let’s make (the election) a referendum on this bill."

The only way to prevent the bill from becoming law now is for the government to use the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause, which has so far never been used in the history of the Charter of Rights.

The Tories’ fight to have the bill altered, to mention that marriage has been traditionally defined as between a man and woman, was also rejected by the Liberal Government.

Religious groups have also voiced fears that despite stipulation that churches, mosques, synagogues and temples are not required by law to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies, they will nonetheless be brought to court if they refuse. Some also fear losing their jobs if they speak out in opposition to same-sex marriage.

Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has promised that the rights of those individuals who oppose the bill will not be compromised by the new law, but protected by the legislation itself, as well as the Charter of Rights which guarantees religious freedom.

The same-sex marriage bill is the conclusion of a long process started by a 2003 ruling in an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that the illegal status of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.

When Bill C-38 becomes law, Alberta and P.E.I., the only two last remaining provinces in which courts have not yet changed traditional marriage laws, will be forced to conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies in their courthouses and city halls.

USA Today report that the bill could be signed into law as early as today, Wednesday 20th July 2005.