.- The Supreme Court of Canada issued its judgment this morning on same-sex marriage, stating that the federal government has the right to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples. The court emphasized that it was issuing an opinion and not a ruling, and that the judgment on the constitutionality of the federal bill does not make same-sex marriage law.
The court also stated that religious groups and officials cannot be forced to perform same-sex marriage if it is against their beliefs.
The judgment also recognized that while the definition of marriage is federal jurisdiction, the solemnization and registration of marriage is provincial, and individual provinces can decide not to register same-sex marriage by invoking the notwithstanding clause
However, the court refused to say whether the traditional definition of marriage – between one man and one woman – violates equality rights.
The court noted that the federal government has already accepted lower-court judgments, which state that excluding same-sex couples from legal marriage is discriminatory and unconstitutional.
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said he would move ahead to table a bill sometime before Christmas.
The federal Conservatives and several pro-family Liberal MPs are expected to wage a bitter final battle to preserve marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
Pro-family groups expect Prime Minister Paul Martin to keep his election promise and put the bill to a free vote in the House of Commons.
The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is expected to issue a statement later today.
Should the legislation pass, Canada would join Belgium and the Netherlands in allowing gays to wed.
Judges in six provinces and one territory have already approved same-sex marriage.