Legal gay marriage : in Belgium, the Netherlands, and now Canada (and Spain) too

Jul 1st, 2005 | By | Category: Ottawa Scene

OTTAWA. Tuesday, June 28, 2005. 11:30 PM. So third and final reading on the Bill C-38 gay marriage legislation has now passed in the Parliament of Canada, by a 158-133 vote. As CTV News has put it: “After the same-sex vote was put to bed, the House immediately adjourned for the summer, thus ending one of the stormiest sessions of parliament in Canadian history … MPs won’t meet again until Sept. 26.” Meanwhile, in the immediate wake of Canada’s move to legalize same-sex marriage, Spain has now jumped on board too. The great gay dead poet W.H. Auden – who may be finding the whole concept of gay marriage rather amusing, as he rolls in his grave – probably still has the best last words: “You shall love your crooked neighbour/With your crooked heart.” 


The Liberals (or at least most of them, and most of their assorted Bloc and NDP allies on this issue) have now put a time limit on the Bill C-38 gay marriage debate in Parliament. And the Globe and Mail reports that MPs have “entered into the final stages of debate on Bill C-38, with Conservative members continuing with their opposition to the legislation despite the widespread expectation that the bill will pass with the support of most Liberal, NDP and Bloc Qubcois members.”

In Monday’s second-reading vote on Bill C-38 24 Liberals broke ranks with the goverment and voted against gay marriage. As the Globe and Mail further explains, “Junior minister Joe Comuzzi, responsible for economic development in Northern Ontario, abstained, defying a party order that all ministers support the bill. Five Bloc MPs and one NDP, Bev Desjarlais, also joined most Conservatives in opposing the legislation.” (And “Ms. Desjarlais had been threatened with expulsion from the NDP caucus if she opposed the bill.”)

A broadly similar lineup of opponents will not be able to defeat third and final reading of Bill C-38 today. Canada will soon “join Belgium and the Netherlands as the only countries in the world to legalize same-sex marriage.”  (The Dutch “passed same-sex marriage legislation in 2001 and the Belgians followed with a similar law in 2003.” And now, as of June 30, Spain has apparently joined this illustrious forward-looking circle as well.)

As usual in all such often deeply-felt debates, the winners are happy, and the losers are sad. Perhaps the most impressive democratic point in the very end is that there will be both winners and losers in all four Canadian federal parties – despite the efforts of various aspiring ayatollahs to enforce ideological purity by official fiat.

JUNE 23-27: FIGHTING BACK ON GAY MARRIAGE ETC … it looks like the neo-Machiavellian Liberals have won

OTTAWA. Thursday, June 23, 2005. 11:50 PM. (Updated Monday, June 27.) So whoever is writing the plot for the great spring 2005 soap opera in Ottawa really has decided to end on a bang. And even if you’re pining for cottage life yourself, you do have to be a bit impressed, and surprised yet again – and again.

To start with, the Bloc Quebecois has shown it can do a little more than support Conservative plots to bring down the government. More exactly, the Bloc has voted with the Liberals and the New Democrats to extend the parliamentary sitting period for a while yet at least.

In the first instance the extension just set the stage for the penultimate nail-biting showdown, over the so-called “NDP Budget” Bill C-48. In theory this could have brought the government down at last. But until late enough into the evening of Thursday, June 23 the test was not expected right away. Then the Liberals, seeing that the Conservatives were several players short through illness and whatnot on Thursday night, suddenly moved to push Bill C-48 through while their advantage lasted. (And using a page from the rule book that, while somewhat obscure, is quite according to Hoyle.)

The Bloc’s fancy footwork continued as well. It supported the Liberals and the NDP on a time allocation vote, that restricted debate on Bill C-48 to one hour – thus forcing the issue to come to a head Thursday night. Then, when the actual vote on the legislation came, the Bloc reverted to an earlier posture and supported the Conservatives against Bill C-48. But the missing Conservative MPs ensured that the bill passed anyway, 152-147.

Now all that apparently remains to be done in the extended sitting period is to pass the Bill C-38 same-sex marriage legislation. This will almost certainly get through easily enough, because enough Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloquistes support it. (And the Bloc’s interest in seeing the government survive on Bill C-48, so the Bloc could help make Bill C-38 the law of the land before the summer recess does begin, presumably explains its fancy footwork Thursday night.)

As matters stand, the House has now met again on Monday, May 27. And the the last parliamentary procedures over Bill C-38 has been set in motion. There will, it seems, be some debate on what is still a deeply felt issue for many MPs, over the next few days. It may still be a bit wise to agree with Yogi Berra that it’s not over until it’s all over.

But already it does very much seem that the neo-Machiavellian Liberals have finally definitively bested their Conservative rivals in the great tactical game that has been going on for the past three months. Just what that may or may not mean for the next federal election inevitably remains unclear. But for the moment the history books are probably bound to report that Paul Martin and his colleagues have shown how, when push comes to shove, they really do know how to play the game.

(Oh, and by the way, the Gilles Duceppe who recently decided to remain in Ottawa and lead the Bloc Quebecois is also a pretty smart guy – and Jack Layton and his 19 New Democrats too.)


OTTAWA. Thursday, June 23, 2005. 9:00 PM. So whoever is doing the plot for the great spring 2005 soap opera has decided to end on a bang, and not on a whimper after all. The Parliament of Canada, it seems, has enjoyed the extra attention it’s been getting over the past few months. It is not ready to give it up quite yet, even if summer has officially begun.

However much you may be pining for the cottage life yourself, you do have to be a bit impressed, and surprised yet again. To start with, the Bloc Quebecois seems to be showing that it is prepared to use its unique strategic position in the current federal House to do something more creative than just support Conservative plots to bring down the government.

More exactly, the Bloc has voted with the Liberals and the New Democrats to close debate on extending the sitting period (i.e., “prolongation de la priode de sance”). According to Don Newman on CBC Newsworld – ably assisted by Susan Bonner (who probably is as cute as Belinda Stronach), this without doubt means that the current sitting of the House will be extended into the early summer.

The extension just sets the stage for the final nail-biting showdown of the season, which as of about 9 PM this evening seems to be happening right now, on the Canadian Parliamentary Access Channel. This involves a vote on what is now being called the “NDP Budget” Bill C-48. In theory this could have brought the government down at last, but the Liberals have apparently discovered that the Conservatives are a few men short tonight through illness and whatnot, and have resolved to push Bill C-48 through now — iron while the strike is hot, etc. So stay tuned. (And remember: everything that follows below was based on a quite different set of assumptions, prevalent earlier today. Just yet another big surprise.)

Assuming that the Bloc Quebecois reverts to its earlier form, and supports the Conservatives on Bill C-48, all the now usual fine calculations about sick MPs and independents suggest almost the same radical uncertainty as on May 19. And the Conservatives seem to be saying that they’re not going to take the latest Liberal bullying on Bill C-38 any longer, and will make every effort to produce all their troops for the vote on Bill C-48.

But if the government is defeated, say on Monday, June 27, then the Bill C-38 same-sex marriage legislation will not come to a vote subsequently. And the Bloc is presumably supporting the government on extending the sitting period today, Thursday, June 23, because it wants to help make Bill C-38 the law of the land before Parliament finally does close down for the summer.

So the biggest suspense about the season’s big-bang finale could turn around just what Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe decides to do about the showdown vote on Bill C-48.

Might just enough Bloquisties be unavoidably absent for this vote, e.g., to let the government squeak by again, in spite of all the other finer calculations? And then the Bloc could vote with the Liberals and the New Democrats to make gay marriage the law of the land, and everyone could finally go back to their constituencies for the summer, with the current Parliament still intact, but ready to fight another election early next year, or whenever.

Or will the Bloc Quebecois instead help defeat the government on Bill C-48, and precipitate a summer federal election after all, in which the Bloc, as far as that goes, would probably also do quite well?

Once again, the only altogether confident answer is who can really say? Right now all Don Newman and Susan Bonner are reporting we know for certain is that the sance will continue, for a while longer yet.


JUNE 21-22: OOOPS, ONE LAST SURPRISE? … Summer holidays may be cancelled for gay marriage rights?

Now that summer has officially arrived, almost everyone outside Ottawa who is not either adamantly for or against the Bill C-38 gay marriage legislation may have almost altogether lost interest.

But as explained by Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson, the “The Paul Martin government, worried about its own back bench but confident that the Conservatives are in even worse shape, has decided to force a final vote on the same-sex-marriage bill, even if it means the House sits through the summer.”

As Ibbitson also notes, the “Liberals are taking a big risk. The Conservatives could try to defeat the government on the revised budget bill to keep the same-sex bill from being passed. One or more Liberal backbench MPs could rebel, as others have done, and join the opposition in voting against the budget.” And, in theory, if “every single Conservative and Bloc Qubcois MP shows up for the vote” on the budget Bill C-48 (the NDP additions to the original budget Bill C-43, which has already passed), and “independents Pat O’Brien and David Kilgour vote with them, the government will fall and there will be an election, because independent MP Chuck Cadman is probably too ill to make it to the House.”

In practice, as reported by CTV News, on the night of Tuesday, June 21 Bill C-48 “moved one step closer to getting final passage after MPs approved a second reading of the bill in a 152 to 147 vote.” Meanwhile, the Canadian Parliamentary Access Channel says the French for “extended sitting period” of the House is “prolongation de la priode de sance.” And that seems apt in English too.

As Tuesday night’s vote suggests, it remains very difficult to believe that – after everything else since the start of April – Canadians are going to have an early summer election after all, precipitated finally by strong divisions over the question of legalizing gay marriage. Especially when there are enough votes among the Liberals, New Democrats, and Bloc Quebecois combined to pass the Bill C-38 gay marriage legislation.

If the government does eventually go down, it will be over a vote on the Bill C-48 NDP budget additions – which the Bloc Quebecois will have to vote against, because the Conservatives want to defeat the government so there can be no consideration of Bill C-38, which the Bloc Quebecois supports. Mmmm … And then the Conservatives will be precipitating a summer election which even the latest somewhat more optimistic opinion polls are still suggesting they cannot hope to win, or even do better in than they did last June 28, 2004. And then there are in any case some ill Conservative MPs as well. It might be difficult to arrange that “every single Conservative and Bloc Qubcois MP shows up” for a vote in Parliament, to defeat the government. (As in the 152-147 vote on second reading of Bill C-48 Tuesday night.) 

Considerations of this sort no doubt help explain why the Liberal government feels safe enough in pressing the issue, rather than letting Bill C-38 hang over until after the summer recess – as the Conservatives and other gay marriage opponents want (and as seemed likely enough until this week). As Ibbitson also explains: “Unquestionably, the Liberals are bullying the Conservatives,” who now “must decide how long they want to filibuster before letting the budget amendments come forward for a final vote. Then, assuming the government survives, they must decide on how long they want to delay final passage of the same-sex marriage legislation.” And the obsolete air conditioning on Parliament Hill “wouldn’t keep a second-floor bedroom cool.”

Even so, it has been a season of big surprises in Canadian federal politics. And who at this stage can definitively predict that some ultimate defeat of the government over what amounts to the same-sex marriage issue – even though there is enough support in the House to get Bill C-38 through on its own – will not be the altogether astonishing biggest surprise in the end? So once again all that can be said for the moment is stay tuned. Unless you’ve already left for the cottage, or some more exotic holiday in the wider global village. And if not, you could watch the vote in Parliament on whether or not to extend the sitting, just to start the summer school days off.

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  1. […] Legal gay marriage : in Belgium, the Netherlands, and now Canada (and Spain) too. (2005, July 1). Counterweights. Retrieved from […]

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