While the Conservative Party may have won Canada’s federal election on Monday, commentators believe the party will have difficulty removing gay marriage because it doesn’t hold a majority in parliament.
In the lead-up to the election the Conservative leader Stephen Harper said he wished to repeal the country’s same-sex marriage laws, causing many gay and lesbian couples to rush to the altar, CTV News reported. Toronto City Hall said there had been an upsurge in gay wedding enquiries in the past few weeks.
But the Conservatives won only 124 of the 308 seats in parliament, and no other party was likely to support an end to equal marriage. The former ruling party, the pro-gay Liberals, scored 103 seats.
Harper has said he’s committed to equal rights for same-sex couples in most areas of law, but stated he wanted to hold a conscience vote in parliament on whether to abolish gay marriage.
In June 2005, outgoing prime minister Paul Martin instructed all ministers and parliamentary secretaries in his Liberal Party to vote in favour of the same-sex marriage legislation, and it passed.
It will be a genuine free vote when I’m prime minister. I will not whip our cabinet, Harper told CTV News in the lead-up to the election. He added that existing same-sex marriages would remain valid.
Australian activist Rodney Croome, who has worked closely with Canadian activists, said his colleagues were confident marriage was there to stay.
The overwhelming impression I have from my counterparts in Canada is that equal marriage is safe because the new Conservative government is a minority, Croome said.
If Harper does call for a conscience vote it was very unlikely the smaller parties who hold the balance of power -“ the Bloc Qu?cois (51 seats) and New Democrats (29 seats), who supported same-sex marriage -“ would allow it, Croome said.
If it did go to a vote, equal marriage advocates in Canada remained fairly confident that all MPs in both those smaller parties and the Liberal Party would vote for equality.
If Harper does manage to repeal the laws, the lawyers I’ve been speaking to in Canada are again confident any legislation that doesn’t strive for equality would be stuck down by the Supreme Court, based on the constitutional guarantees of equality, Croome said.
But while marriage seems safe, Canadian activists identified two areas that could suffer, namely HIV prevention and the international advocacy of LGBT rights, particularly in the United Nations.
Because the religious right is strong in the Conservative Party, and because Harper is keen to get closer to US policy decisions, it’s almost certain there will be windbacks in those areas, Croome said.