OTTAWA, Ontario (BP)--Canada's Liberal government fell from power Nov. 28, sparking a nationwide election that social conservatives hope will result in the overturning of a recently passed "gay marriage" law.
Canadians will go to the polls Jan. 23, and pro-family groups in the U.S. are rooting for the Conservative Party, whose leader, Stephen Harper, has promised a vote on the definition of marriage if Conservatives were to win the House of Commons. Harper would become prime minister if Conservatives come to power.
"That's the commitment we've made and it hasn't changed," Harper said Nov. 29 on the first day of the campaign, according to Canadian Press.
The Conservatives are one of four major parties in Canada's multi-party system. The Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Paul Martin, pushed through a bill legalizing "gay marriage" during the summer, making Canada the fourth nation to redefine marriage.
But the Liberals -- who have a plurality of seats in the House -- lost a no-confidence vote Nov. 28 by a vote of 171-133 when the other three parties joined forces to topple the government.
The House of Commons, commonly called "Parliament," has 308 seats, of which the Liberals hold 133. Canada last held an election in June 2004, when the Liberals went from having a majority to a minority of seats. Minority governments -- that is, governments without a majority of seats in Parliament -- often are short-lived.
The issue of "gay marriage" figures to be a prominent one during the campaign. Polls show Canadians divided evenly on the definition of marriage.
"[The issue of 'gay marriage' is] all over our newspapers today," said Janet Epp Buckingham, director of law and public policy for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Martin was criticized by some Canadian politicians for requiring his cabinet members, who also are members of Parliament (MPs), to vote for the "gay marriage" bill this summer. Harper, though, has promised a "free vote," meaning that MPs will be free to vote their conscience.
"It will be a genuine free vote when I'm prime minister," Harper said. "I will not whip our cabinet."
The "gay marriage" bill passed the House of Commons this summer, 158-133, just weeks after the Liberals survived a no-confidence vote by the narrowest of margins, 153-152.
The Conservatives are the only party whose leader opposes "gay marriage." But any vote to overturn the current law likely would draw a few votes from Liberals. More than 30 Liberals voted against the bill earlier this year.
"We have to remember there were MPs in other parties who supported the traditional definition of marriage, so it isn't easy to gauge the level of support just by looking at the parties," Buckingham told Baptist Press.
But even if Conservatives come to power, there is no guarantee that Harper's bill would become law. For starters, it would face a challenge in court.
Harper said Nov. 29 that if Conservatives win, he would first "test" Parliament's will by introducing a non-binding motion concerning the traditional definition of marriage. If that motion fails, the matter will be closed. But if it passes, Harper would then put forth a bill that would overturn the "gay marriage" law.
Buckingham said such legislation would trump the various rulings by provincial courts that had already legalized "gay marriage" prior to the bill's passage. Even before the new law, courts in eight of Canada's 10 provinces had issued rulings legalizing "gay marriage."
The bill also would allow "same-sex marriages" that already have taken place to stand, Harper said. Such a bill also might legalize civil unions, which grant homosexual couples the legal benefits of marriage without using the word "marriage."
"He has to provide some kind of structure that would recognize same-sex relationships, or it will definitely be struck down by the courts," Buckingham said.
The bill could face its toughest hurdle in the Senate, which currently is dominated by Liberals. Unlike MPs, senators are appointed by the prime minister and do not face election. They serve until age 75. Because Liberals have held power since 1993, they hold a majority of Senate seats.
The Senate passed the "gay marriage" bill, 47-21.
"[Senators are] often appointed when they're fairly senior anyway, so some of them only serve for five years, and then they retire," Buckingham said. "... Even if we had a Conservative victory -- even a majority government -- there would be a period of time when there would be a lot of conflict between the House of Commons and the Senate."
Nevertheless, the election gives Conservatives a fighting chance to overturn a "gay marriage" bill that was passed just a few months ago. It became law July 20.
"The Conservatives in the latest polling are running neck and neck with the Liberals, so there is a possibility that they could be elected to be the next government," Buckingham said. "There are so many undecided voters that it could really go any way."
For more information about the national debate over "gay marriage," visit http://www.bpnews.net/samesexmarriage