The long-awaited federal bill on same-sex marriage was introduced Feb 1 in the House Of Commons.
Expect Bill C-38 to dominate the news agenda in Canada until it passes (or not), which could take more than six months getting through three readings, a committee and the Senate – a tricky timeframe for the minority Liberal government.
The issue has been at the top of the news for the past several weeks with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper insisting that legalized polygamy would be next, while Prime Minister Paul Martin defended same-sex marriage as he travelled around Asia following the tsunami disaster.
James Dobson, head of the US-based rightwing Christian group Focus On The Family, waded into the fight, while Catholic bishops and priests across the country called for their congregations to actively oppose the bill.
“What has become absolutely apparent is that for opponents of equality this is their last chance, and so those who support the exclusion of lesbian and gay people from civil marriage are pouring everything they’ve got into defeating the bill,” says Alex Munter, former Ottawa regional councillor, and the national coordinator for Canadians For Equal Marriage. “If they defeat the bill, that is the platform from which they will launch years of sustained ongoing effort to roll back the clock on human rights.
“The end game here is to use the defeat of the bill as phase one of a much bigger campaign that would really call into question the place of lesbian and gay people in society,” he says.
Martin is permitting a free vote, except for cabinet ministers who will be expected to support the bill. The NDP and Bloc Québécois are expected to support the bill and most Conservatives to oppose it. That leaves its fate in the hands of the divided Liberal backbench.
The opponents of marriage are rallying the troops and investing significant amounts of money into ensuring a defeat of the bill. Canadian Citizens To Defend has a six-part plan, which includes a petition against marriage, a lobbying campaign for a referendum on the issue, lobbying of MPs, donations, spreading the message and supporting the Conservative Party.
Focus On The Family is spending $280,000 to create the Canadian Centre For Marriage And Family to promote “public policy that values human life, marriage and the family.” It’s currently searching for an executive director to be paid $100,000 annually.