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Marriage debate coming — again

Debate will be 'sooner rather than later'

It wasn’t in the Apr 4 throne speech officially kicking off Stephen Harper’s government. But a day later, Justice Minister Vic Toews announced that same-sex marriage rights will be debated again.

On the first day of the recent federal election, Harper promised to hold a free vote on marriage equality rights. If the majority of Parliament votes to re-open the debate, the Tories will introduce a bill to restrict marriage to unions between men and women, Harper said at the time. And he’s going to keep that promise “sooner rather than later,” Toews told media Apr 5.

Canadians For Equal Marriage (CEM) responded immediately. Citing polls that show two-thirds of Canadians opposed reopening the divisive marriage debate, national spokesperson Kaj Hasselriis said, “They want the new government to tackle fresh priorities, not roll back the clock on equality.”

CEM coordinated the lobbying effort for the legislation legalizing same-sex civic marriage. The group recently reactivated itself in preparation for a parliamentary debate.

Harper’s speech from the throne was notable for its brevity.

The speech included an assortment of general proposals and a promise to table their relatively uncontroversial Federal Accountability Act. The Conservatives promised to fix government, cut the goods and services tax, fight crime and remodel child-care.

No mention was made of the Conservative plan to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16 or same-sex marriage. The day before, Harper had told a Canadian Professional Police Association conference that he would “get tough with sex offenders” by raising the age of consent.

Commenting after the throne speech, Toews wouldn’t say whether a bill to raise the age of consent would make it into parliament ahead of the summer break, but says it remains a priority.

The current age of consent is unlikely to find vocal defenders in a fractured parliament. Openly gay MP Bill Siksay says the NDP doesn’t yet have a position on the issue.

“On age of consent, I support a single age of consent — the age of consent for anal sex should be brought in line with the age for everything else. But on the Conservative proposal. I’ll have to see what they bring forward,” Siksay told Capital Xtra. “I’m not convinced it’s necessary.”

Conservative amendments to the Liberal speech from the throne in 2004 threatened to topple that minority. But few seem willing to try that this time around.

“This is like every speech from the throne. It’s rather general and we’ll have to see,” said Liberal opposition leader Bill Graham, “We’ll come forward with our concrete and constructive proposals, to see if we can improve it, and we’ll work with everyone in the house to do that.”