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MARRIAGE VOTE: Backbenchers act against type in final marriage showdown

Party lines blur as Libs and Conservatives allow free vote

The former Liberal minister who resigned from cabinet rather than vote in favour of same-sex marriage indicated he would vote against reopening the debate.

Thunder Bay MP Joe Comuzzi was the minister of economic development for Northern Ontario until June 2005. As a Liberal cabinet minister, he was obliged to vote in favour of Bill C-38, which recognized same-sex marriages from coast to coast; instead he resigned and voted against the bill. Now, however, it appears he will vote against Harper’s motion to re-open the debate.

On the eve of the Dec 7 same-sex marriage vote, he reminded Parliament that the majority of MPs voted for C-38 “and now it is the law of the land.”

“There’s political opportunism at work here; I hope that the government reconsiders bringing forward the motion tomorrow,” he said.

The eight-hour debate saw many backbenchers acting against type: Liberals lecturing against equal marriage, Conservatives preaching tolerance and separation of church and state, all while some anti-gay-marriage Liberals – like Comuzzi and Szabo – spoke against the Conservative motion.

Comuzzi lamented a procedural move by the Conservatives, which renders MPs unable to amend the motion, and he told Parliament it was the first time in his 18 years tenure that the government requested permission to bring in a bill.

Instead of asking permission, the Conservatives should “bring in the bill” to directly outlaw same-sex marriage, Liberal MP Paul Szabo shouted at the Conservatives.

Szabo, one of 32 Liberals who voted against the bill last year, echoed Comuzzi’s comments and said he would not support Harper’s motion until it had teeth.

“This is not the end of it,” Szabo said.

Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott heckled Szabo, saying his position has him doing logic “pretzels” in order to vote against the motion

Predictably, openly gay MPs Réal Ménard, Bill Siksay, and Mario Silva spoke against the motion. Political heavy hitters Ken Dryden, Michael Ignatieff, Bill Graham, and Olivia Chow gave speeches in favour of gay marriage.

Nova Scotia MP Gerald Keddy and BC MP James Moore were two of three Conservative MPs who voted to recognize gay weddings last year. They both spoke against their party’s motion. (Jim Prentice, the minister of Indian affairs, also voted to legalize gay marriage last year; he was not in the House.)

“I fail to understand the people who think that recognizing same-sex marriage relationships somehow undermines traditional marriage,” Keddy told Parliament.

Keddy also said he hopes that after the motion fails, the issue is “finally settled.”

Bill Siksay spoke of Keddy’s courage during the last Parliament.

“I hope he has more company this time,” Siksay added.

About 10 Conservative MPs are expected to vote against the motion, according to Canadians for Equal Marriage’s Laurie Arron, but it’s hard to pin down which ones.

Rookie MP and minister for international cooperation Josée Verner will be among them. At the Dec 6 debates, she spoke in favour of married gay and lesbian couples

“The current law reflects my personal views,” she said in French.

“I am among those firmly in favour of the separation of Church and State.

Because Bloc MPs are required to vote against this motion, those against same-sex marriage will likely be absent at tomorrow’s vote. All 29 NDP MPs are expected to vote for the motion. The Liberals are divided; 32 voted against Bill C-38. There are 25 more Conservatives in the House now than in 2005 and 10 additional NDP members.

Bill C-38 passed by a vote of 158-133, a plurality of 25.

A final vote on the motion is expected at 3pm Dec 7.