2 min

Marriage committee split

Court appeal deadline looming

After spending months gathering testimony from Canadians on the issue of same-sex marriage, the Standing Committee On Justice And Human Rights is preparing its report.

But with deep divisions still remaining within the committee, made up of 18 MPs from the five major parties, it is unlikely that it will be making a unified proposal to Justice Minister Martin Cauchon.

Despite having months of evidence to sort through, there is pressure to come up with something by the end of June. In the arena of the courts, the feds only have until the end of the month to appeal a BC Court Of Appeal decision that says the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. An appeal would be a waste of resources if the committee decides to support same-sex marriage; missing the appeal deadline would null the committee’s work if they go another way.

“There will be a very divided report,” says Richard Marceau, committee member and Bloc Québecois MP for Jacques-Cartier. “The Alliance is unanimously against same-sex marriage, the two members of the Bloc who are sitting on this committee will be voting for recognition of same-sex marriage, the NDP is in favour, the Progressive Conservatives now with Peter MacKay are firmly against, and the Liberals are divided.”

(Until his recent ascension to the PC leadership throne, MacKay was the only Conservative on the committee. From his chronic absenteeism at committee meetings to his comments to the press, MacKay has made it clear that he doesn’t feel same-sex marriage is an important issue.)

In addition to the divisions across and within party lines, the committee also faces the difficulty of summarizing the hundreds of hours of testimony.

“There is a huge volume of evidence,” says Scarborough East Liberal MP John McKay, who is against altering the definition of marriage. “We are trying to respond to what Canadians told us coast to coast.

“My preference would be a traditional definition of marriage and some form of recognition for other forms of relationships,” says McKay. He admits, though, that his party is split on the matter.

The committee’s task has been to investigate four possible options for dealing with the issue of same-sex relationship recognition: status quo with no formal recognition, civil unions, allowing same-sex marriage or getting the government out of the marriage business altogether, leaving it to churches to decide.

Marceau concludes that only two of those options are legally tenable.

“The civil union scheme and the option of leaving marriage to religion are both unconstitutional because they would be stepping into provincial jurisdiction,” says Marceau. “So the real choice facing committee members is whether or not to allow same-sex couples to marry.”

Those in favour of same-sex marriage are hoping that recent court decisions in British Columbia, Quebec and Ontario will help persuade the members that change is inevitable.

“The BC Court Of Appeal decision on May 1 might have pushed some people toward recognizing same-sex marriages if they begin to feel that the courts are going to go that way anyway,” says Marceau, interviewed before the Ontario ruling on Jun 10 (turn to page 12). “If the committee doesn’t decide, the Supreme Court will in the end and ultimately will allow same-sex marriage.”

“It is our intention to get it done before the Parliament breaks for the summer at the end of June,” says Andy Scott, committee chair and Liberal MP for Fredericton. “The actual writing of the report is a process that takes place in camera, so I cannot speak of our deliberation aside from saying that we are deliberating.”

Once the committee submits its report, the government will have 150 days to answer by legislation or by report.