2 min

Got cold feet?

The Liberals could leave us at the altar

Credit: Jake Wright

Equal marriage advocates celebrated their narrowest victory yet Tuesday as federal MPs voted 137-132 against an Alliance Party motion to “reaffirm that marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

Though the parliamentary motion wouldn’t have meant much if it had passed – it wasn’t binding – the slim majority does not bode well for Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s proposed bill that would legalize same-sex marriage. Some Liberals who don’t like the government bill voted against this motion merely because it was put forward by the Alliance as a way to embarrass the Liberals. It’s hard to guess how they’ll vote when the free vote is held, likely next fall.

“This is very much a wake-up call to our community and the supporters of our community that we have to get involved to make sure that the Alliance Party and those people who want to use prejudice against us aren’t able to do it and set back our community,” says Bob Gallagher of the newly formed advocacy group Canadians For Equal Marriage.

“It was actually quite a tense motion in the house and you could tell that people were very much on edge and very uncertain of how it was going,” says Gallagher.

Alliance Leader Stephen Harper criticized the Liberal government for trying to push the same-sex marriage issue through the courts without Parliament’s input and for demonizing heterosexual marriages.

“For the Liberals or for anyone in the Liberal party to equate the traditional definition of marriage with segregation and apartheid is a vile, disgusting position that has no place in Parliament,” Harper told the House Of Commons just before the vote.

Liberals who are against same-sex marriage might have also been against the Alliance motion because it would have pushed Parliament to invoke the notwithstanding clause if the Supreme Court Of Canada rule that prohibiting same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

“The House Of Commons has never before invoked the notwithstanding clause and, in this case, to do so to override the rights of a minority is extremely alarming,” says Gilles Marchildon, chair of the queer lobby group Egale Canada.

The Alliance Party used the motion as a two-pronged attack: one against gay and lesbian rights and the other against the Liberal government for reversing itself. Harper made a show of the fact that the government, including Chrétien and prime minister in waiting Paul Martin, supported a similar Alliance motion in 1999, which passed 215-55.

“The old Liberal promise was, ‘We will take all necessary steps to defend the traditional definition of marriage,'” says Vic Toews, justice critic for the Alliance Party. “They lied, there is no question about that. They failed to appeal the court decisions [in favour of same-sex marriage] and they voted against this motion.”

Chrétien and Martin have both said that court decisions and changing times have convinced them that legalizing same-sex marriage is the right thing to do. Still, at a media scrum before the vote, Martin said he was not closed to other options, like civil unions for same-sex couples.

The final vote was close, but an improvement over the one in 1999, says Gallagher.

“We actually had 137 Members Of Parliament willing to actually vote down a motion that said that marriage would be exclusively a man and a woman. We had 137 able to stand up and actually back us on that even though they had the kind of whipping up of a frenzy from the other side. So I think we should take it as a good sign.”