A strange mix of MPs voted to keep the same-sex marriage file closed on Dec 7. Debate on the motion – which stretched nearly to midnight on Dec 6 before coming back for the actual vote the next day – saw hard-line anti-gay-marriage Liberals vowing not to re-open the issue while a Conservative cabinet minister praised the separation of church and state.
When it came time to vote, the Prime Minister and 110 Conservatives, bolstered by 13 Liberals, voted to re-address the issue. Meanwhile 175 MPs voted to leave the issue alone: all members of the Bloc (two Bloc members sat it out) and NDP, most Liberals, and 13 Conservatives.
Proving that Harper wasn’t altogether interested in winning the day, six Conservative cabinet ministers voted against the motion: foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay, Indian affairs minister and former Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Jim Prentice, Ottawa MP and treasury board president John Baird, international trade minister David Emerson, transportation minister Lawrence Cannon, and minister for international cooperation Josée Verner. Joining them was Michael Chong, the Conservative MP who resigned from cabinet to vote against the motion recognizing Quebecois nationhood.
In 2005, 32 Liberals voted against equal marriage. In the latest effort, 11 Liberal backbenchers from Ontario plus Newfoundland MP Gerry Byrne and Quebec MP Francis Scarpaleggia voted with Harper.
In a press conference after the vote, Laurie Arron of Canadians For Equal Marriage (CEM) boasted of an ever-widening margin of acceptance for gay marriage. He pointed out that in 2003, a Harper motion re-affirming the hetero-exclusive definition of marriage was defeated by just five votes. The July 2005 vote, which made gay marriage the law of the land, passed by a margin of 25 votes. This latest was defeated by 52 votes.
But that doesn’t mean that support for same-sex marriage has grown in Parliament. Take MacKay: he voted against Bill C-38 in 2005, but also against Harper’s motion to re-open the debate. After the vote, he said the result shows Canadians have other priorities, and that dragging out same-sex marriage debates distracted Parliament from other goals.
Given the massive attention focused on equal marriage rights, it would be fair to assume it’s a priority for average Canadians. But a February 2005 poll – conducted even before equal marriage was passed by Parliament – showed that only six percent of Canadians thought gay marriage, whether they were for or against, was a primary ballot issue.
More recently, an Environics poll conducted in May found that two- thirds of Canadians considered same-sex marriage a done deal and wanted Parliamentarians to focus on issues like health and the economy.
Among those who voted against Harper were two hard line anti-gay-marriage MPs from the Liberal Party. Joe Comuzzi, the Liberal who resigned from cabinet last year rather than vote for gay marriage, urged those who opposed same-sex marriage to recognize that it’s now “the law of the land” and told the Conservatives to “reconsider bringing forward the motion.”
Paul Szabo was accused of twisting in “logical pretzels” in order to vote against the motion. His staunch anti-gay marriage stance led him to reject the motion because it had no teeth.
“Bring in the bill” to outlaw it and invoke the notwithstanding clause if necessary, he told the Conservatives.
-with files from Gareth Kirkby