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Canadian court clears way for gay marriages

Canada's Supreme Court ruled yesterday that proposed legislation allowing gay marriage is constitutional but the government cannot force religious officials to perform ceremonies against their beliefs.

The government had sought the Toronto court's opinion, which is only advisory. Judges in six provinces and one territory have already allowed same-sex marriage. Canada would join Belgium and the Netherlands in allowing gay marriage if the law is passed.

"Several centuries ago, it would have been understood that marriage be available only to opposite-sex couples," the court said in its opinion. "The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today."

The legislation is expected to be introduced early next year. The federal Conservatives and even some Liberals are expected to wage a battle to limit marriage to heterosexuals.

The gay marriage law needs the backing of at least 155 legislators in the 308-seat House of Commons to pass. It has the backing of the 38 Liberal cabinet members and is believed to be supported by nearly all legislators in the Bloc Quebecois and New Democrat parties, which have 54 and 19 seats.