Same-sex marriage (SSM) in Canada
2006 DEC: Motion to reopen debate on SSM:
In this essay, "SSM" means "same-sex marriage." "MP" means
Member of Parliament.
|Don 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history filled with outdated concepts like suffrage, the death penalty,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."
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."
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:
|To 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.|
|The 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]|
|If the government really wanted to respect existing same-sex marriages, then
they would allow other loving, committed same-sex couples to marry in the
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:
|Since 2003-JUN-10, when SSM was legalized in
Ontario, over 12,000 marriage licenses have been issued to same-sex couples.|
|Current polls agree that two out of three
Canadian adults are opposed to reopening debate on SSM. 6|
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
|Reducing funding of the Status of Women offices,|
|Reducing funding for literacy programs,|
|Reducing funding for legal aid programs,|
||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).|
|Planning to give police a voice in judicial appointments,|
|Planning to reopen the same-sex marriage debate,|
|Failing to reduce hospital wait times, and|
|Threatening 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
" '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."
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
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
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."
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
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
"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
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."
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.
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
|The 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.|
|The percentage of MPs who voted for marriage
equality increased in each party.|
||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:
|It respected the approximately 12,000 existing same-sex marriages made
since SSM became legal on 2005-JUN-20, and |
||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.
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
If the marriage act had been changed to no longer allow same-sex couples to
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.
Reactions to the rejection of the
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- John-Henry Westen, "BREAKING - Conservative Party Marriage Motion Wording
Revealed," LifeSiteNews.com, 2006-DEC-01, at:
- Juliet O'Neill, "Dion comes out swinging in question period," CanWest News
Service, 2006-DEC-04, at:
- Sue Bailey, "Tories under attack from right and left over same-sex marriage
motion," The Canadian Press, 2006-DEC-06, at:
- Sue Bailey, "Tory motion is set to reignite gay marriage debate in Commons,"
The Canadian Press, 2006-DEC-05, at:
- From CPAC TV coverage of the House of Commons debate.
- Bruce Campion-Smith, "Same-sex marriage debate 'the last," Toronto Star,
2006-DEC-07, Page A8.
- "Same Sex Thursday!," FoveNews.com, 2006-DEC-07, at:
- "Harper's motion to re-open equal marriage defeated! Prime Minster says the
issue is settled," Canadians for Equal Marriage, 2006-DEC-07, at:
- Don Martin, "Debate over, move along," National Post, 2006-DEC-07, at:
- 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:
- Janice Tibbetts, "Same-sex marriage issue put to rest: PM," CanWest News
Service, 2006-DEC-08, at:
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