.- Canadian Justice Minister Irwin Cotler said yesterday the government will introduce the same-sex marriage bill as soon as Parliament returns from its winter break Monday. The minister made this announcement during a three-day Liberal retreat in Fredericton, N.B. Prime Minister Paul Martin has said repeatedly in the last few weeks that he intends to legalize same-sex marriage as a matter of constitutional rights.
During the election campaign last spring, Martin said the legislation would be put to a free vote in Parliament. While this still applies for Liberal backbenchers, Martin has required his 38-member cabinet to vote in favor. This, say analysts, will give the bill enough votes to pass.
Conservative leader Stephen Harper says that most Canadians support the Conservative view that maintains the traditional definition of marriage but creates civil unions for same-sex couples.
He said his party is trying to find a solution that “respects tradition and respects rights at the same time and is one that most Canadians could live with," he said. "Most Canadians want to see some kind of middle ground on this issue."
Cotler tried to appease concerns by ensuring the opposition that the law will not have any impact on religious groups.
"It does not touch the issue of religious marriage, it does not touch the conception of marriage that any of our faiths have," he said.
Ontario MP and Liberal backbencher John McKay said he will vote against the bill. He dismissed Cotler's claim that churches won't eventually be affected.
"I just don't really think people have thought about where this is all going," he said. "Anybody who refuses to marry same-sex couples will necessarily lose that protection over time. It's an untenable position."