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Senate Committee Forwards Canada's Equality Bill with Marriage Clause Intact

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THE Senate committee examining Canada's equality bill voted unanimously yesterday to return it to the Senate Chamber without amendment.

The Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs made its decision after hearing testimony beginning May 11th from representatives of groups including gays and lesbians, churches, native peoples, labour unions, and women.  Justice Minister Anne McLellan testified as did senior officials from the ministry's Modernizing Benefits Department on more than one occasion.

The bill, entitled C-23 or 'An Act to Modernize the Statutes of Canada in Relation to Benefits and Obligations,' proposes to amend 68 federal laws in order to grant same sex couples all the rights and obligations of common law ones.

Speculation has been that any recommendation by the Senate to modify the now infamous Clause 1.1 - the traditional definition of marriage inserted by Ms. McLellan earlier - will cause a kafuffle upon being received in the Commons and risk the bill not being enacted.

Recent developments in the fight for gay marriage are estimated to have reduced the significance of the clause's insertion.

David Corbett, counsel for the rights group Foundation for Equal Families, told the Senate committee on May 18th that the issue of gay marriage "will be litigated."

The next day the City of Toronto referred a request by lawyer Michael Leshner and his partner for a same sex marriage license to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice.

And on May 29th BC Attorney General Andrew Petter came out in support of same sex marriage, urging the Chretien government to "change the federal law to allow for equality for all couples who are in a committed relationship."  The statement was made following a marriage license application by Victoria couple Cynthia Callahan and Judy Lightwater.

If the issue of gay marriage is headed towards the judiciary for resolution anyway, one school of thought is that enacting C-23 - in order to address the multitude of other present situations of inequality for same sex relationships - should not be delayed.

Having completed the Senate report stage in committee the bill now returns to the Senate proper, where the committee's recommendation that it be adopted 'as is' will be considered in third reading prior to a vote being taken.