OTTAWA - The Liberal government will introduce legislation to legalize same-sex marriage when Parliament resumes sitting in January, Prime Minister Paul Martin said Thursday.
In an opinion released earlier in the day, nine Supreme Court judges asked to review draft legislation extending marriage rights to gays and lesbians said such a move would be constitutional.
That legal opinion clears the way for the Liberal government to introduce a bill early in the new year.
Liberal MPs will be free to vote their conscience on the bill, but cabinet ministers will be required to vote in favour of it, said Martin.
The prime minister urged members of all parties to carefully consider the issue before voting, saying the proposed legislation will ensure the "equal treatment of all Canadians."
He acknowledged the issue is divisive, but said Canadians can handle the debate.
"I think this will engender a debate across the country," said Martin. "We are a very mature nation and can undertake the debate."
Canada is the "world's most post-modern country" and can take the lead in this issue, he said.
Martin's Liberal minority government holds 134 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, but should have the support of most of the 19 New Democrat MPs and 54 Bloc Québécois MPs.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler says he expects a "significant majority" of members will support the bill because it backs two key points of the Charter, equality rights and freedom of religion.
As part of Thursday's decision, the court said religious groups opposed to same-sex marriages won't be compelled to perform them.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper, who called the court's opinion a "victory for Canadian democracy," says he's pleased the court "punted this issue back to Parliament."
Harper said the Supreme Court supports his party's policy because it also declined to express an opinion on whether the traditional definition of marriage is unconstitutional.
The Conservative leader says he'd like the government to introduce a compromise bill to Parliament that would preserve the traditional definition of marriage in law and include stronger protections of religious freedoms.
Can't use notwithstanding clause, Alberta Justice Minister says
Alberta's Justice Minister said his government, which opposes same sex marriage, will have to weigh its options in the wake of the ruling. But Ron Stevens said they need to be realistic, adding that the decision has restricted their ability to defend marriage.
Stevens said the government does not have the option of imposing the Constitution's notwithstanding clause.
"Since the court ruled the authority over same-sex marriage falls to the federal government, it is only the federal government who can invoke the notwithstanding clause to maintain the traditional definition of marriage."
He said the Alberta Tory caucus must now meet to discuss the province's next move.
"There are legal options, but I'm going to share them with my colleagues first. I'm not going to stand here today and talk about what-ifs," he said.
Stevens said his government's position is not aimed at discriminating against gays and lesbians, but "upholding the definition of marriage as it is traditionally understood by society."
Four years ago, Alberta passed a law stating marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Stevens said despite the Supreme Court ruling that law stands and marriage licences will not be granted to same-sex couples.
Read more info on: CBC.ca
Page last updated December 16 2004.
To add a group or report a problem with the page, contact the webdyke