June 29, 2005

Gay marriage cements Canada’s liberal reputation

By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian Parliament has approvedlegislation to allow same sex marriages, helping cementCanada's image as one of most socially liberal nations in theworld.

"We are affirming once again our world-wide reputation as acountry that is open, inclusive and welcoming," Alex Munter, aspokesman for Canadians for Equal Marriage, said afterParliament voted late on Tuesday to make gay marriages legalacross the country.

Canada is only the third country after Belgium and theNetherlands to permit such unions.

Canada generally leans more to the left on social issuesthan the United States, where President Bush wants Congress topass an amendment to the constitution banning gay marriages.

Canadians are proud of their state-funded health caresystem, while aware that it is tarnished by long waiting linesand a shortage of doctors in some parts of the country.

The government is considering decriminalizing possession ofsmall amounts of marijuana, although the legislation is stalledin parliament, and gun control is much tougher than in theUnited States.

"Congratulate yourself. You are part of the most diverse,tolerant and open-minded place on earth. And yesterday provedthe thesis once again," wrote John Ibbitson, columnist for theGlobe and Mail newspaper, which traditionally backs the rulingLiberal party.

But the gay marriage debate is likely to rumble on, andCanada's opposition Conservatives expect to make the issue akey one in the next election campaign, likely early next year.

Conservative critics complain that the Liberals are usingthe Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- designed to preventdiscrimination against minorities -- to impose minority beliefson the majority, and say the document gives too much power tothe courts rather than to Parliament.

"We don't believe this is a good law or a just law for thenation of Canada. It's a law that was imposed on a majority ofCanadians," said Reverend Tristan Emmanuel of the EquippingChristians for the Public Square Center.

"Now we have to focus on the federal election. We need toengage that same base we've been mobilizing, we need to add toit ... this certainly is a very important issue for asignificant body of Canadians," he told CBC television.