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Canada upholds law allowing same-sex marriage
By David Ljunggren and Randall Palmer
December 7, 2006

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Parliament upheld a 2005 law allowing same-sex marriage on Thursday when it threw out a bid by the minority Conservative government to revisit the contentious issue.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper put forward the motion after promising his socially conservative backers that he would do so, but most observers had expected it to fail.

The Conservatives are set to fight an election next year and had legislators backed the idea of revisiting the law it would have become a campaign issue.

"We made a promise to hold a free vote and we kept that promise. The result was decisive and we'll accept the democratic result," Harper told reporters.

Legislators voted 175 to 123 to reject a motion by the right-leaning Conservatives to re-examine the law, which some religious groups and critics say undermines society.

The law was passed by the previous Liberal government after a number of courts ruled that banning gay marriage contravened Canada's charter of rights.

Some Liberal legislators shouted "Shame!" as the Conservatives voted.

Harper seemed to reject the idea of looking again at gay marriage, even if he won a majority government.

"I don't see (us) reopening this question ... It's not our plan," he told reporters. Six of his cabinet voted against the motion on Thursday.

Canada was the fourth country, after the Netherlands, Belgium and Spain, to legalize homosexual marriage.

Last year's vote was 158-133 in favor of the new law, but the Conservatives said it had not truly reflected the will of Parliament because the Liberals had forced cabinet ministers to vote in favor. Both parties allowed their members to vote according to their consciences on Thursday.

The signs were clear from the beginning that the motion was likely to fail. Even some parliamentarians who voted against the law last year said the matter had been settled and did not need to be reopened.

Asked whether the issue was now resolved once and for all, Liberal Party leader Stephane Dion replied: "It will be, especially if we win the next election ... This prime minister tried and he failed."

Groups opposed to the law vowed to continue the fight and warned Harper that the affair would cost him votes.

The Canada Family Action Coalition said the Conservatives who voted against the motion "have just set a tone that could result in a Conservative loss in the next election. When a party abandons the values of its core base, it loses support."

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who backed the idea of reopening the debate, said that when he was attorney general of the province of Ontario he had fought for the civil rights of all Canadians, including same-sex partners.

"I did that proudly. I think it was the right thing to do. But marriage is something different," he told reporters.

The motion called on the government "to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages."

(With additional reporting by Louise Egan in Ottawa)

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