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Same-Sex Marriage Advances In Canada

"Rights are rights. None of us can or should pick and choose whose rights we will defend and whose rights we will ignore," Justice Minister Irwin Cotler argued on the floor Tuesday. "The government must represent the rights of all Canadians equally."

He stressed, however, that the change would apply only to the right of gays to be married and divorced under civil law. Ministers cannot be forced to perform the marriages if they object.

"In no church, no synagogue, no mosque, no temple, no religious house will those who disagree with same-sex unions be compelled to perform them. Period," Prime Minister Paul Martin said in a major address giving government support to the bill in February. "This legislation is about civil marriage, not religious marriage."

But opposition to the bill was emotional. About two dozen Liberal Party members voted against the bill, and a Liberal cabinet member resigned rather than support it.

"This is going to have a direct impact on our society," argued Richard Harris, a Conservative member of Parliament. "It is in direct conflict with the traditional way civilization has grown and the traditional foundations of society."

Opponents of same-sex marriage held prayer vigils across the country Sunday. But in Toronto, tens of thousands, including many prominent political figures, marched in the annual gay pride parade.

The bill they supported ensures that Canada will be a symbolic counterpoint to its southern neighbor. In the United States, 40 states have passed laws or constitutional amendments banning marriages between those of the same sex. Few states, however, have laws specifically banning recognition of marriages approved in other jurisdictions. Diplomatically, legal marriages performed in another country are traditionally honored by the United States.

A gay Canadian couple told reporters in Toronto this week that they were barred from a flight to Atlanta because a U.S. Customs agent at the Toronto airport refused to accept their customs declaration as a married couple. Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell said they were going to Georgia for a human rights conference when they were told by a supervisor that the United States did not recognize their 2001 marriage in Ottawa.

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