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Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Canada

2006 DEC: Motion to reopen debate on SSM:

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Earlier developments are described in another essay

In this essay, "SSM" means "same-sex marriage." "MP" means Member of Parliament.

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Quotation:

bulletDon Martin: "Now, the traditional definition of marriage -- [one] man and [one] woman to the exclusion of all others -- has been relegated to the bins of history filled with outdated concepts like suffrage, the death penalty, residential schools and the Chinese head tax." 9

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Status of SSM in Canada:

Same-sex couples in Canada became legally able to marry anywhere in Canada on 2005-JUL-20 when Bill C-38 was proclaimed. One province, Prince Edward Island, refused to recognize the new law, but capitulated a month later in the face of a lawsuit by two lesbians.

The first item that the leader of the Conservative Party discussed during the federal election campaign was his intention to initiate new Parliamentary legislation to ban future SSMs, while allowing existing same-sex marriages to continue.

Don Martin, columnist for the National Post, wrote:

"In the 16 months since the legislation was proclaimed under Paul Martin's Liberals, 12,400 same-sex marriages have been registered. The social fabric of the nation has not noticeably deteriorated. Marriage's merits to heterosexual couples has not diminished. And no church ramparts have been stormed by gay and lesbian couples demanding entry to the altar and church hall for their wedding ceremonies." 9

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2006-DEC-01: Wording of motion:

LifeSiteNews reported that the motion to be introduced by the Conservative Government during the week of DEC-03 is:

"That this House call on the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions, and while respecting existing same sex marriages." 1

This wording is curious for a couple of reasons:

bulletTo our knowledge, legislation creating civil unions as a state separate from marriage does not exist in Canada. That is, no Canadian couples have been civil unionized.

bulletThe Federal Marriage Act defines "for civil purposes, ... the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others" is the definition of marriage. [Emphasis ours]

bulletIf the government really wanted to respect existing same-sex marriages, then they would allow other loving, committed same-sex couples to marry in the future.

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2006-DEC-06: Debate to begin in Parliament:

According to CBC News, the Conservative Party will introduce a motion to Parliament on DEC-06 to reopen discussion on same-sex marriage. It will be a free vote, to be held before the break on DEC-15. The CBC reports:

"Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said if the House votes against changing the law to allow same-sex marriages, the matter would be settled."

Unfortunately, it is not clear whether the Prime Minister would consider the matter settled for the current session of Parliament, or for until the next general election, or forever.

The CBC continues:

"Laurie Arron, national co-ordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage, said his group projects that Harper's motion to reopen the debate would lose by a 30- to 40-vote margin." 5

Canadians for Equal Marriage reports that:

bulletSince 2003-JUN-10, when SSM was legalized in Ontario, over 12,000 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples.

bulletCurrent polls agree that two out of three Canadian adults are opposed to reopening debate on SSM. 6

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2006-DEC-06: Debate begins on Conservative motion on SSM:

Stephane Dion was elected during the previous weekend as leader of the Liberal party. On DEC-04, he engaged the Conservative party at question period, suggesting that the citizens of Canada had "two clear visions" from which to choose: a right-wing party lead by a "control freak" or his socially conscious party with a "collegial leadership." He attacked the "far right" Conservative government, accusing it of "Republican voodoo economics" and criticizing its attack on the most vulnerable groups in Canada by:

bulletReducing funding of the Status of Women offices,

bulletReducing funding for literacy programs,

bulletReducing funding for legal aid programs,

bullet Reducing funding for charter challenges. These programs funded constitutional challenges to federal laws that conflict with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Canada's Constitution).

bulletPlanning to give police a voice in judicial appointments,

bulletPlanning to reopen the same-sex marriage debate,

bulletFailing to reduce hospital wait times, and

bulletThreatening retirees pension funds. 2

Dion said on DEC-04 that he hoped that all Liberal MPs would vote against the Conservative motion to reopen SSM debate. He regards marriage equality as a matter of fundamental justice. However, he has allowed his members to vote freely on the Conservative motion. He said that this will:

"... prove that the overwhelming majority of my MPs are not willing to vote with the government on this issue. ... Then it will be the end of the story."

Only time will tell if his comment about this motion being the end of attacks on SSM are hopelessly naive.

Conservatives have argued that the vote on bill C-38 to legalize SSM was not a true reflection of the MPs' opinion because, as is the custom in the House, cabinet solidarity resulted in all of the Liberal cabinet ministers voting in favor of the bill. The vote at that time was 158 to 133 in favor of marriage equality.

Sue Bailey of Canadian Press reported on DEC-05:

"[Paul] Szabo [Liberal MP for Mississauga South] says the Conservative motion, as worded, essentially asks MPs to support an unconstitutional law-making process.

" 'It's a very sneaky way to do it. Of course it's going to be defeated by about 30 votes or so, and the prime minister will say: "Well, I promised it and now it's over".' "

"Szabo said the Tory motion is a 'disingenuous' political ploy that's aimed more at dividing Liberals than truly re-examining gay marriage." 4

On the first day of the election campaign at the end of 2005, Stephen Harper, the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, promised to hold a vote in Parliament concerning same-sex marriage. He later indicated that it would be brought up early in the current sitting of Parliament. However, after polls indicate that most MPs would vote against reopening SSM for debate, he delayed the matter as long as possible, until just before the Christmas recess on DEC-15. All parties have agreed to start debate on the motion about 3:30 PM ET on DEC-06, and to end at midnight. The vote was scheduled for DEC-07 at about 3:00 PM ET.

Discussion of the motion "Government Business #12 'Definition of Marriage' " began on schedule. 5 Rob NIcholson, Conservative Party House leader introduced the motion as described above.

Mary Ellen Douglas of the Campaign Life Coalition, a religious-right pro-life/anti-abortion group was disappointed. She said that the Prime Minister has prevented a fair chance to revisit SSM. Referring to the motion, she said:

"I think there’s going to be a lot of confusion and, when the smoke clears, a resentful attitude as well. ...It [the motion] doesn’t help anything." 3

She and many other social and religious conservatives hoped for a simple free vote on whether to reopen the SSM debate. Sue Bailey of The Canadian Press reported on DEC-06:

"Civil unions? Douglas said she doesn’t remember the Conservative election platform - which promised 'a truly free vote on the definition of marriage' - saying anything about civil unions. She and many others had hoped for a straightforward free vote on whether MPs wanted to reopen the gay marriage debate. Instead, they got a crafty motion that has been lambasted by critics as a hollow bit of political mischief that was engineered to fail. Many MPs opposed to civil unions and existing same-sex marriages would have to reject the motion on that basis alone, Douglas said in an interview from Kingston, ON:

'I don’t quite know why the prime minister has done this. ... The whole thing is very regrettable. I’m very sorry that he took this path.'

"Harper’s detractors say he did it so he could technically keep his vow to put the marriage question to another vote - without running any real risk of miring himself once again in a political quagmire." 3

Rob Nicholson, the leader of the Government in the House of Commons defended the motion, stating:

"This is completely consistent with what we told the Canadian people we would do. We’re fulfilling that promise."

Quoting from a campaign document, Nicholson said:

"A Conservative government will hold a truly free vote on the definition of marriage in the next session of Parliament. If the resolution is passed, the government will introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage, while respecting existing same-sex marriages."

Bill Siksay, NDP MP for Burnaby Douglas in British Columbia, rose to ask what crisis exists in Canadian marriage that prompted this motion. He asked whether any clergy been forced against their will to marry same-sex couples. He felt that  with the over 12,000 same-sex couples marrying in Canada, they had "breathed new life" into the institution of marriage. He saw no necessity to revisit SSM.

Bill Graham, Liberal MP for Toronto Centre rose to give a lengthy speech. He indicated how proud he had been to participate in the debate over Bill C-38 in 2005. He regards today's motion as an underhanded political maneuver. It mentions civil unions, even though everyone is aware that this comes under provincial, not federal, jurisdiction. He felt that the motion was designed to divide the House and divide the nation.

Graham discussed how Parliament must change in order to reflect changes in the Canadian culture. Regarding SSM, he said that Parliament had moved on; the country had moved on; faith groups remain divided. He noted that SSM is now available in Holland, Spain, South Africa and elsewhere. He asked what kind of an example Canada would be to South Africa and the rest of the world in the area of civil rights if they stripped the right to marry away from same-sex couples. He asked the Conservative government -- if the motion is defeated -- to "Promise that this is the last time [that they will attempt to revisit SSM]. Promise that you are not just using this as a strategy for another election issue. Do not inflict the agony on gay and lesbian Canadians. Tell them this will end. Let's solemnly undertake in this House today that we've debated this issue and that we'll move on" 6

Alex Atamanenko, NDP MP for British Columbia Southern Interior asked how SSM is "a threat to marriage." He acknowledged that there are many real threats to marriage: poverty, cost and availability of child care, education, drugs, alcohol, etc. But he doubted that same-sex couples were threatening the institution of marriage.

Two Liberal MPs -- Paul Szabo of Mississauga South and Bill Graham reviewed the legal situation regarding SSM. The Ontario Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the Ontario government was required to issue SSM licenses. This was confirmed by the most senior courts in British Columbia and Quebec. It was later confirmed by five other provinces. The Supreme Court of Canada said that they would not overturn the decisions of the lower courts. According to 155 jurists, no government can introduce a law to restore the previous definition of marriage without invoking the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' Notwithstanding Clause. Graham noted that the Conservative Government has promised to never invoke the Notwithstanding Clause to bar SSM. Thus, we are at an impasse. Marriage equality cannot be reversed. The motion is little more than an empty vessel, a shoddy "smoke screen. ... It’s a maneuver designed to divide the House and the nation on an issue that’s been decided."

Public Safety Minister, Stockwell Day, argued that SSM placed religious freedom at risk. He said:

"The importance to maintain this institution as defined between a man and a woman is crucial."

Réal Menard, Bloc Québécois MP, criticized the Conservative Party of playing to their:

"ideological base. ... I don't think Canadians are going to follow along with them now, ... The shouldn't think they'll ever form a majority with this type of behavior."

Most of the debate opposed the motion. There was relatively little effort by Conservative MPs and cabinet ministers to debate the motion. The House of Commons was nearly empty. The Prime Minister and many cabinet ministers did not attend.

Pierre Lemieux, Conservative MP for the riding of Glengarry-Prescott-Russell, ON, said that it is imperative for Canada to recognize "natural marriage," by which he appears to mean the marriage of one man and one woman. This statement may be confusing to some, because the Government of Canada has always recognized "natural marriage" and continues to do so. Lemieux' concern appeard to be that the Government also recognizes the marriages of loving, committed same-sex couples.

He quoted the Catechism of the Catholic Church saying that the "intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws."

Lemieux continued with an attack on the legitimacy of the marriages of infertile couples, by saying that the Catholic Church teaches:

"... unchangingly, that marriage is a covenant in which husband and wife express their mutual love, and join with God in the creation of a new human person, destined for eternal life."

He suggested that God might wreak vengeance on MPs who do not support the motion. He said:

"When we cease to be MPs, sadly we will likely be forgotten by our fellow man -- but not by God, who knows each of us intimately. If God Himself is truly the author of marriage, then let us be able to give a good account of ourselves when we stand before Him, as we all must stand before Him."

He ended with a prayer:

"Almighty God, protector of all families, guide us in our efforts to defend the Holy Sacrament of Marriage as the union between a man and a woman. I ask you this, in the Name of our Lord, Jesus Christ." 10

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2007-DEC-07: A bit of humor:

I guess that this should be "humour." We are a web site whose main office is in Canada, but we normally write in American English because over 90% of our visitors reside in the U.S.

A posting titled "Same-sex Thursday" to the Fove News forum provides some comic relief. It states:

So the debate over same sex marriage is back.

Personally I see this as a positive development. I have no idea where Canadians got the idea that once a minority's rights are defined they are somehow set in stone. It's time Canadians woke up and realized those days are long gone. This is an era of reflection.

Sure the Charter looks nice hanging on a wall but the fact is it grants far too many rights that are contrary to the deeply held personal views of many chubby white guys.

I have heard rumours that in the future the Conservatives plan on devoting every Thursday in the House of Commons to more votes on minority rights.

So far they have planned motions debating whether the Chinese should be allowed to drive, whether women should be allowed to vote and whether turbans should be allowed in elevators that travel more than 16 floors.

In order to ensure that these debates target all minorities equally they have come up with an ingenious way for creating motions.

This year, in lieu of a secret Santa exchange, every Tory has to write the name of a minority that bugs them on a slip of paper. On the back of the slip they print a so called “right we all enjoy”. The slips will be mixed up and placed in a gorgeous festive ballot box that John Baird gift wrapped for the occasion. At this year’s party, each member will be blindfolded and they will draw a slip of paper out of the box! That slip of paper is their present to them and to Canada. Imagine the hilarity that will ensue when Justice Minister Vic Toewes stands up and says “This year my Christmas gift is a motion to debate whether Hindus can own property in New Brunswick.”

I can hear the laughter from here.

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2006-DEC-07: The vote on the motion:

During Question Period in advance of the vote, two opposition MPs asked Prime Minster Harper whether he would consider the SSM matter settled if the motion were rejected. In each case, Harper employed a common technique used by politicians who don't want to answer an awkward question: he answered another question -- one that had not been asked.

MPs were allowed to freely vote according to their conscience. The Bloc Quebecois and NDP parties took a strong position against the motion because they regard it as an attack on a fundamental human rights. It had little chance of passing.

At 3:21 PM ET, a vote was concluded on the Conservative Party's motion to reopen same-sex marriage for debate. The motion was rejected 175 to 123. 5 Thirteen Liberal MPs voted against the motion, and neatly cancelled out the 13 Conservative MPs who voted in favor. 11

According to Equal Marriage Canada, a gay-positive group:

bulletThe spread between equal marriage supporters and opponents more than doubled compared to the vote on C-38 in 2005-JUN -- the bill that legalized SSM.

bulletThe percentage of MPs who voted for marriage equality increased in each party.
bullet No MPs who voted for bill C-38 voted in favor of the motion to reopen debate. 8

Various commentators had predicted a spread of 30 to 40 votes. The actual spread was 52! Some observers speculate that a dozen or more Liberals who are religious and/or social conservatives had been expected to vote for the motion, but actually voted against it for two reasons:

bulletIt respected the approximately 12,000 existing same-sex marriages made since SSM became legal on 2005-JUN-20, and

bullet It accepted the concept of civil unions for same-sex couples which would have given them some or all of the benefits of marriage.

These MPs' preference might have been for a motion to forcibly divorce existing same-sex married couples, and assign to all same-sex couples in loving committed relationships the status of roommates.

The matter is now settled, until it is dusted off by some future government. There is still a strong feeling against SSM by social and religious conservatives in Canada. A future Conservative government might find irresistible the temptation to tap into this anger in order to improve their standing in the polls.

The federal Conservative Party allowed six and a half years of peace over the SSM question. They resumed the attack during 2012-JAN.

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What might have happened:

If the proposed motion had passed and if the House of Commons went on to new legislation banning SSM, the matter would go before the Senate which has a very large Liberal majority. The bill's chances there would have been slim. If the bill were approved by the Senate and signed into law, it would almost certainly be faced with an immediate court challenge.

Over a hundred and fifty constitutional experts who are not affiliated with the Conservative Party had reached a consensus that such a law would be unconstitutional, and that SSM could only be terminated if the Government were to use the Notwithstanding Clause to opt-out of the constitution. Lawyers who are affiliated with the Conservatives thought quite differently.

If the marriage act had been changed to no longer allow same-sex couples to marry, the Attorneys General of Alberta and Prince Edward Island would probably have ordered that marriage licenses to same-sex couples immediately cease. But the attorneys general of the remaining eight provinces would be in a dilemma. On the one hand, they would be required to obey a federal law prohibiting SSM. But they have been ordered in past years by the highest court in their provinces to allow SSM. It is anyone's guess whether they would ignore a court order or ignore the federal law.

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Reactions to the rejection of the Conservative motion

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. John-Henry Westen, "BREAKING - Conservative Party Marriage Motion Wording Revealed," LifeSiteNews.com, 2006-DEC-01, at: http://www.lifesite.net/ldn/2006/dec/06120104.html
  2. Juliet O'Neill, "Dion comes out swinging in question period," CanWest News Service, 2006-DEC-04, at: http://www.canada.com/
  3. Sue Bailey, "Tories under attack from right and left over same-sex marriage motion," The Canadian Press, 2006-DEC-06, at:  http://www.canada.com/
  4. Sue Bailey, "Tory motion is set to reignite gay marriage debate in Commons," The Canadian Press, 2006-DEC-05, at: http://www.canada.com/
  5. From CPAC TV coverage of the House of Commons debate.
  6. Bruce Campion-Smith, "Same-sex marriage debate 'the last," Toronto Star, 2006-DEC-07, Page A8.
  7. "Same Sex Thursday!," FoveNews.com, 2006-DEC-07, at: http://www.fovenews.com/
  8. "Harper's motion to re-open equal marriage defeated! Prime Minster says the issue is settled," Canadians for Equal Marriage, 2006-DEC-07, at: http://www.equal-marriage.ca/
  9. Don Martin, "Debate over, move along," National Post, 2006-DEC-07, at: http://www.canada.com/
  10. Hilary White, "Marriage Debate: Catholic MP Reminds Members Tenure as MPs Short – Eternity Long Warns MPs they must give good account of selves when they later stand before God." LifeSiteNews.com, 2006-DEC-07, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  11. Janice Tibbetts, "Same-sex marriage issue put to rest: PM," CanWest News Service, 2006-DEC-08, at: http://www.canada.com/

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Copyright © 2006 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance.
Essay first posted on 2006-DEC-01
Latest update: 2012-JAN-17
Author: B.A. Robinson

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