Canada votes for law to allow same-sex marriages

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The Independent US

In a victory for the minority Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Paul Martin, Canada's House of Commons narrowly approved a gay marriage Bill in the face of fierce resistance from the Conservative opposition and from church leaders across the country. The law is likely to come into effect before the end of July.

Canada is only the third country, after Belgium and the Netherlands, to confer full rights on homosexuals to enter traditional marriage. And there seems little doubt in Madrid that a similar Bill, championed by Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriquez Zapatero, will also pass into law by the end of today.

The Canadian vote, though fiercely contested, was largely symbolic, sealing several rulings in favour of gay marriage from the country's courts. Over the past two years, judges have given gays the right to marry in eight of Canada's 10 provinces. A ruling from the Supreme Court last December that gay marriage would not violate the constitution spurred Mr Martin to push for national legislation.

He prevailed in the Commons by a narrow 158-133 margin. A splinter group of 33 Liberals refused to support the Bill and one of Mr Martin's ministers resigned over the issue on Tuesday. But he had crucial support from the Bloc Quebecois, giving him the numbers he needed.

"It's about the right to love," said Real Menard, a Bloc member of parliament, who is gay. "When you are in love, things are different, and everyone is entitled to that." Mr Martin told reporters: "We are a nation of minorities. And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don't cherry-pick rights. A right is a right and that is what this vote tonight is all about."

But passage of the Bill does not mean that debate in Canada is over. With Mr Martin heading a government enfeebled by a long-running corruption scandal, a general election in Canada may come next year. The leader of the Conservatives, Stephen Harper, vowed to overturn the law if his party wins. "Most Canadians believe that the traditional definition of marriage should be recognised," he said.

In Spain, conservative and religious leaders were planning new street demonstrations today to protest against the move towards legalising gay marriage. Up to 500,000 marchers clogged central Madrid on 19 June to denounce Mr Zapatero's Bill.

The demonstration may have helped sway members of the Spanish senate who voted to reject the draft law. But in parliament this evening, the ruling Socialist Party is expected to command a necessary absolute majority to override the senate vote and give the law final passage.

Recent polls in Canada suggested that most people supported moves to allow gay marriage. In the United States, polls show most Americans remain uncomfortable with it.