TORONTO – Canada’s House of Commons voted Tuesday to legalize gay marriage, passing landmark legislation that would grant all same-sex couples in Canada the same legal rights as those in traditional unions between a man and a woman.
The bill passed as expected, despite opposition from Conservatives and religious leaders. The legislation drafted by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority Liberal Party government was expected to easily pass the Senate and become federal law by the end of July.
The Netherlands and Belgium are the only other two nations that allow gay marriage nationwide.
Some Liberal lawmakers voted against the bill, and Martin’sCabinet minister for economic development in Ontario, Joe Comuzzi, resigned Tuesday over the legislation. But enough allies rallied to support the bill that has been debated for months.
Martin said he regretted losing Comuzzi but praised Tuesday’s vote as a necessary step for human rights.
“We are a nation of minorities,” Martin said. “And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don’t cherry-pick rights.”
There are an estimated 34,000 gay and lesbian couples in Canada, according to government statistics. Before the measure passed, gay marriage was legal in eight provinces.
“This is a victory for Canadian values,” said Alex Munter, national coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage, a group that has led the debate for the legislation.
Martin, a Roman Catholic, has said that despite anyone’s personal beliefs, all Canadians should be granted the same rights to marriage.
Churches have expressed concern that their clergy would be compelled by law to perform same-sex ceremonies, with couples taking them to court or human rights tribunals if refused. The legislation, however, states that the bill only covers civil unions, not religious ones.
The Roman Catholic Church, the predominant Christian denomination in Canada, has vigorously opposed the legislation, saying that it would harm children in particular.
According to most polls, a majority of Canadians support the right for gays and lesbians to marry. Gay marriage is opposed by most Americans, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken in November, shortly after 11 states approved constitutional amendments to ban same-sex marriage.
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