After seeing eight proposed amendments to the bill voted down in the last several days of Commons debate, the Conservative Party served notice it would try again for amendments in the Senate. Some of the amendments would have effectively destroyed the bill’s intent to allow same-sex couples to legally marry, while others were aimed at strengthening the position of religious leaders denouncing gay rights or refusing to marry same-sex couples or rent church space to gay groups and individuals.
The Senate is moving vigorously. The bill has already moved through second reading, with the Liberal majority invoking closure, and has been sent on to committee. The bill could come back from committee, pass third reading and get royal assent before the end of July. The Liberals hold 64 Senate seats to 22 for the Conservatives and 11 others.
But if the Conservatives utilize the same stalling tactics at committee as employed by Vic Toews at the House justice committee, it is possible the bill may not make it through this summer. So far, only two Conservative Senators – Toronto’s Anne Cools and Langley, BC’s Gerry St Germain – say they will vigorously oppose the bill. It is expected that most senators will be able to take a vacation in the middle of July while the committee debates the bill, and then return for final reading.
Bill C-38 will make same-sex marriage legal across the country, although the provinces will still be responsible for the administration of marriage. More than 90 percent of Canadians now live in provinces where courts have legalized same-sex marriage. Only Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories now forbid same-sex civic marriages. Last month, New Brunswick’s courts legalized it.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper has vowed to replace the bill with another substituting registered partnerships for same-sex couples if his party comes to power. That would put him on a collision course with the Section 15 equality provisions of the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms.
A group of Canada’s leading constitutional lawyers has said that Harper would eventually need to invoke the Charter’s “notwithstanding” clause in order to bring in registered partnerships.
Same-sex marriage is also legal in the Netherlands and Belgium. The Spanish parliament approved it Jun 30, winning the bronze medal that some Canadian activists and politicians had hoped to snag. The US state of Massachusetts legalized it last year, but a referendum banning gay marriages but allowing civil unions will likely go before voters in 2006.
New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, Portugal and Switzerland allow “civil unions” which carry most of the rights of opposite-sex marriage but without the word marriage. Vermont and Connecticut also allow civil unions. Legislation comes into effect in Britain in December.
France, Germany and Luxembourg allow civil contracts (in Germany called “life partnerships”) which offer significantly fewer rights than civil unions. Hawaii also allows domestic partnerships.
Austria, Greece, Ireland and Italy ban same-sex marriage and offer no legal recognition for unmarried couples. US President George W Bush has kicked off a drive for a constitutional amendment forever banning them.