Same-sex marriage file closed for good, PM says
Tory attempt to restore traditional definition fails in House; social conservatives cry foul as Harper declares debate over
OTTAWA — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared the contentious issue of same-sex marriage to be permanently closed.
After a Conservative motion calling on the government to restore the traditional definition of marriage was defeated yesterday by a resounding 175 to 123, Mr. Harper said he will not bring the matter back before Parliament.
"I don't see reopening this question in the future," he told reporters who asked whether same-sex marriage would return to the table if the Conservatives won a majority government.
Nor does he intend to introduce a "defence of religions" act to allow public officials, such as justices of the peace, to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.
"If there ever were a time in the future where fundamental freedoms were threatened, of course the government would respond to protect them," said the Prime Minister, who voted for the motion. "The government has no plans at this time."
The declared end of the same-sex marriage debate brought comfort to those who have been fighting for such unions. But social conservatives who have supported Mr. Harper's government said they felt betrayed by his decision to quit their fight; some said it will come back to haunt the party in the next election campaign.
"I am afraid that the Conservative Party feels that they can take social conservatives for granted in this country," said Joseph Ben Ami, executive director of the Institute for Canadian Values.
"Mr. Harper and the Conservatives are going to have to explain, I think, what people in our constituency are going to perceive as a certain lack of leadership surrounding this question in the last few days."
Social conservatives are not likely to turn to the Liberals, said Mr. Ben Ami, but they can stay home on voting day.
The loss of those voters was likely weighed by the Prime Minister in recent days. But Conservative sources have said it was his plan to dispose of the issue so he could make a more moderate pitch to middle-class voters and diffuse attempts by the Liberal Party to paint him as a socially right-wing ideologue.
The vote yesterday, which fulfilled a Conservative election promise, marked the sixth time since 2003 that the House of Commons has decided in favour of same-sex marriage.
Eight provinces and Yukon, meanwhile, have declared that excluding gays and lesbians from marriage is a violation of equality rights.
The Liberals and Conservatives both allowed their members to vote according to their consciences. Thirteen Liberals voted for the motion aimed at ending homosexual marital unions and 13 Conservatives, including six cabinet ministers, turned it down.
Joe Comuzzi, who gave up his cabinet seat last year because he refused to vote for the Liberal government's same-sex marriage law, voted against the Conservative motion yesterday.
One of those ministers was Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay, who previously had voted against expanding the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples.
"For me, this was just a practical matter," he explained after the motion was defeated. "It's been debated in the House.
It's been considered by the provinces, by the courts, and I think it's time to move on," Mr. MacKay said.
Even Justice Minister Vic Toews, who has been one of his party's most vocal opponents of homosexual marriage, said there is no appetite for returning to the issue in the future.
"I don't think there's any intentions of reopening it. There's been no commitment in that respect and I don't see any prospects in that respect," Mr. Toews said.
Laurie Aaron, a spokesman for Canadians for Equal Marriage, breathed a sigh of relief when he learned that Mr. Harper had abandoned the fight.
"I think really Mr. Harper had no choice," said Mr. Aaron, who pointed out that the Commons rejected the motion yesterday by an even greater margin than the vote passing the same-sex marriage act last year.
"It's quite clear that there is a growing consensus among Canadians that equal marriage is here to stay," the group spokesman said.
Nova Scotia MP Gerald Keddy, one of the few Conservatives who last year voted in favour of the bill that redefined marriage to include gays and lesbians, said he firmly believes this is the last time the matter will come before Parliament.
But Mr. Keddy, who has been targeted for political attack by groups that object to his pro-same-sex stand, said those battles may not be over.
"I expect there will be a bit of that that will go on," he said.
"But we will march ahead and we will cross that bridge when we come to it," Mr. Keddy said.
And the opponents of same-sex marriage made it clear yesterday that they will continue to fight.
Former London, Ont., MP Pat O'Brien, who quit the Liberal caucus in 2005 over the party's support of homosexual marriage, said he and others who share his views have a number of options.
The democratic strategy is to elect people who share the same values, he said. "We saw some pretty high-profile candidates defeated in the last election because of their stand in favour of same-sex marriage. We didn't get as many successes as we wanted in the last election, but this is far too serious an issue to give up so lightly."