Ottawa (CNSNews.com) - Conservative opposition leader Stephen Harper pledges that, if elected to power in Canada's January 23 general election, he will have a vote in parliament to overturn this year's controversial decision to legalize same-sex "marriage."
The election campaign started just hours after the Liberal government fell, and Harper surprised many by raising the issue so early.
Unlike this year's vote in which parliament approved the legislation to legalize such unions, Harper pledged a true "free" vote when the issue comes to the floor of the House of Commons.
The Liberal government of Prime Minister Paul Martin allowed backbench Liberals a free vote but insisted that all government ministers vote in favor of the legislation.
The timing of the announcement by Harper took even some of his supporters by surprise.
The Sun Media group of tabloid newspapers, normally a strong supporter of the Conservatives, said Harper "may have handed the Liberals an early Christmas present" by promising to reopen the debate.
Polls have consistently shown that while a majority of Canadians do not favor the legalization of same-sex marriage, a majority also say the issue has now been decided by parliament and should be left alone.
Harper did not go into details of how the move would be implemented if passed, but he did make it clear that lesbian and homosexual couples that had been joined in law since the legislation was passed earlier this year would remain legally so.
At least 3,000 same-sex couples are reported to have taken the step so far.
Harper's announcement came under immediate attack from other political parties and homosexual and lesbian groups.
Gilles Marchildon, spokesman for Egale Canada, a homosexual advocacy group, said much had changed since the last time the Conservatives fought an election opposing the legalization.
"Even people who are not comfortable with same-sex marriage say it's time to move on," he said.
But Harper said he was determined to give it one last try. If he failed the next time around, he promised, he would consider the matter closed.
The Liberal Party said it would oppose any effort to re-visit the issue in parliament.
"Defending rights is a government's most important responsibility," the party said on its website. "Not just those that happen to apply to us, not just those that everyone agrees with, but all fundamental rights."
Jamey Heath of the left-wing New Democratic Party said it was "time to move forward."
Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Quebecois which wants the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec to secede from Canada, told a news conference in an area known as Montreal's "gay village" that he would fight any attempt to overturn the same-sex legislation.
Harper has many supporters, including former Liberal legislator Pat O'Brien and former Liberal cabinet minister David Kilgour, both of whom quit their party to sit as independent members of parliament to protest the same-sex move.
Although both men have announced their retirement from parliamentary politics, O'Brien has teamed up with a former Conservative legislator, Grant Hill, to form a group called Defend Marriage Canada.
They plan to raise money, publish letters and lobby voters during the campaign to elect candidates who oppose same-sex marriage.
Meanwhile, in British Columbia, two lesbians have been awarded 2,000 Canadian dollars (about $1,700) against a Knights of Columbus group that refused to allow them to have a "wedding reception" in the group's hall, even though the court rejected the women's complaint of discrimination.
The court was told the women had signed a contract with the managers of the hall for the function, but only after invitations were sent out had the managers realized that a same-sex couple was getting married.
The court ruled that although the Knights of Columbus had the right to uphold its religious beliefs, it should have been more helpful in finding another location.
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