Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday June 9, 1999

Love ... and marriage

Commons to vote on recognizing matrimony as heterosexual union only

Janice Tibbetts
The Ottawa Citizen

Federal politicians, faced with court rulings extending equal benefits to gays and lesbians, will vote today on whether marriage should be kept as a sacred institution between a man and a woman.

The Reform party will ask the House of Commons to "take the necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in Canada."

The push to exclude homosexuals comes during a fierce debate over the federal government's plan to rewrite dozens of federal statutes to delete the definition of a couple as man and woman within benefit packages ranging from pensions to tax breaks.

Some Reformers fear that legal gay and lesbian marriage isn't far off, particularly in light of a recent Supreme Court ruling that effectively gives same-sex couples the same legal rights as common-law couples.

"The next time the courts tell us that something is unconstitutional, we'll at least have this on record that it's the will of the House that marriage should stay the way it is, and this House and this government will do everything within its legal means possible to keep it the way it is," said Eric Lowther, Reform's family values critic.

The Reform party will press the issue by way of a motion, which serves as a declaration of Parliament's position but is not binding on the government.

The motion could have the backing of many federal Liberals, particularly after Justice Minister Anne McLellan reiterated yesterday that the government has no intention of recognizing gay marriage.

"This government, from the outset, has been quite clear that we are not interested in redefining the institution of marriage," Ms. McLellan said outside the House of Commons.

The federal government, mindful of an Ontario Court ruling that forbade two men to marry, believes it is on sound legal footing by keeping the Marriage Act the way it has been for centuries.

One Liberal backbencher who intends to support Reform is Tom Wappel, a vocal opponent of gay rights who is against his government's move to extend equal benefits to same-sex couples.

"I would find it inconceivable that people would vote against it," said Mr. Wappel. "It's a statement of the obvious as far as I'm concerned."

The lawyer for a gay-rights organization that has launched a lawsuit challenging 58 federal statues says politicians should focus on court orders to extend equal benefits rather than fighting gay marriage.

"Nobody has proposed a solution that would have marriage as an institution available to same-sex couples," said David Corbett of the Foundation for Equal Families. "It is not constructive contribution to the debate and it is certainly premature."

Homosexual marriage is a battle that gay-rights activists are reluctant to fight right now, fearing it could cause a backlash and set back anticipated gains.

Hundreds of provincial laws across the country are expected to come crashing down in the next six months following a Supreme Court ruling two weeks ago that struck down Ontario's Family Law Act banning gays and lesbians from suing for alimony when their relationships fall apart.