.- Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal government introduced same-sex marriage legislation in the House of Commons yesterday. If passed, as expected, it will make Canada the third country in the world to allow same-sex marriage. Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said he is confident that the bill will be passed quickly. He told CBC Radio yesterday that successive court decisions and debates in Parliament have determined that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right.
The only way the government can override same-sex marriage legislation and the equality rights guaranteed in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is by invoking the notwithstanding clause, Cotler told the CBC.
Cotler said the government has no intention of invoking the clause to override the Charter.
Martin reaffirmed that the bill will be put to a free vote in Parliament. However, earlier reports state that cabinet is expected to vote according to party lines.
The proposed legislation stipulates that religious groups and organizations can refuse to marry same-sex couples. However, in a CBC report that aired earlier yesterday, Cotler said that when equality rights and religious rights face off, “equality rights always trump religious rights.”
Meanwhile, a Newfoundland city mayor resigned as a marriage commissioner because he does not agree with same-sex marriage.
Mayor Claude Elliott of Gander, Nfld., was officiating at civil weddings. He told the CBC yesterday that he doesn’t think he will be the last marriage commissioner to resign. A Newfoundland provincial court legalized same-sex marriage Dec. 20.
Elliott said most members in his community do not agree with same-sex marriage and respect his decision to resign.
CNA made an error in attribution. The statement that “equality rights always trump religious rights” was wrongly attributed to Justice Minister Irwin Cotler. The phrase should have been attributed to Conservative MP Vic Toews, who made the comment in response to the same-sex marriage bill. CNA apologizes for the error.