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Marriage bill likely to pass this summer

Long debate on gay marriage legislation almost over

There’ll likely be a few more bumps in the road, but gays and lesbians can expect to see same-sex marriage legalized from coast to coast this summer.

Prime Minister Paul Martin reportedly told Liberal MPs Jun 1 that they will sit into the summer until the bill is passed. And the Senate has agreed to extra July sittings to speed up the bill’s passage, according the Ottawa Citizen. If the Senate passes the bill, it will need only Royal assent – an easy to organize formality – before it is law in all of Canada.

Martin’s move followed weeks of delays and dithering over the bill. At one point, the Liberals were ready to force the bill through committee by Jun 9 in order to ensure its passage by the House before the summer recess. But the Liberals caved May 30 on the third day of filibustering by Vic Toews, a Conservative Party member of the committee.

The Liberals offered Toews a deal: they’d allow him to call 22 delegates, most of them strongly opposed to same-sex marriage, in addition to the 41 already approved to testify before the committee. In exchange, Toews agreed to schedule the last of the delegates for Jun 14, followed by a clause-by-clause reading of the bill the next day, and a referral back to the House for third reading Jun 16.

Media commentators called it a victory for the Tories. Globe & Mail columnist John Ibbitson suggested the bill might never pass. Capital Xtra questioned Martin’s commitment to getting the bill through despite promises to the gay community and socially progressive Canadians.

Martin’s decision to sit until the bill is passed risks alienating strong opponents in his own caucus. A group called Defend Marriage is pressuring eight Liberal MPs to bring their own government down rather than allow Bill C-38 to pass this spring. Thirty-five Liberal MPs voted against the bill for its May 4 second reading, along with all but four Tories and a couple of Bloc MPs. The bill passed second reading 164-137 and moved on to the committee stage.

Pat O’Brien, the rabidly anti gay-marriage MP from London, Ontario is the first of what could become several MPs to leave the Liberal caucus after Martin found his backbone. O’Brien announced Jun 6 that he will sit as an independent.

O’Brien claims Martin is rushing through the bill and not giving adequate time to its opponents to make their points.

And it appears O’Brien would rather help topple the Liberal government than live in a land with gay marriage.

O’Brien has threatened to vote against the federal budget in order to bring down the government and stop Bill C-38 from passing.

Because of rumours that other Liberals were also considering leaving caucus over Bill C-38, Paul Martin met with opponents in his caucus Monday night to discuss their demands that further protections for churches be added to the bill at third reading.

But those opposed to the bill aren’t likely to change anyone’s mind, say those working to get the bill passed.

“Two percent of Canadians and zero percent of MPs are undecided on this issue,” says Alex Munter of the Canadians for Equal Marriage. Some 90 percent of Canada’s population lives in the seven provinces and one territory that now allow same-sex marriage, he adds.

Even the National Post suggests it’s time for the bill to pass. Canada’s socially conservative daily newspaper has made opposition to gay marriage a cornerstone of its editorial policy for several years. But on Jun 2, an editorial headline read: “The marriage debate has had its day.”

“In fact, it’s hard to think of a policy issue that has been the subject of more debate in this country over the past two years. After committee hearings, endless public analysis and a 2004 election in which voters were well aware that a re-elected Liberal government intended to legalize gay marriage, the personal stance of virtually every MP in the country is already well documented.

“To endlessly prolong the inevitable, even as courts have made it legal for gay couples to wed in most provinces, would serve little purpose.”

Indeed, gay groups have already begun turning their attention to the post-marriage era. A March retreat by the board of Egale chewed over the next generation of issues once same-sex marriage is enshrined into law. The results, in part: overturning Canada’s anti-sex laws, passing equal trans rights, creating safe school environments for gay youth.