At least 48 Liberal MPs have publicly declared they are against legalizing same-sex marriage, the most opposition Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has faced from his caucus to one of his laws since coming into office 10 years ago.
A Globe and Mail survey of all Liberal MPs found 60 in favour of the government's proposed bill to legalize same-sex marriage, 48 opposed and 27 undecided. Twenty-nine refused to answer and seven could not be reached.
That Liberal opposition -- combined with MPs from other parties who are against the legislation -- throws into doubt whether the bill, to be decided in a free vote, will pass the Commons.
When opposition MPs are taken into account, both sides can claim roughly the same levels of support, with opponents holding a slight edge. That places passage of the bill in the hands of a clutch of undecided Liberals who are being arm-twisted by vociferous constituents.
Many of those who are undecided said they believe their constituents could accept a marriage-like, legally sanctioned union for gays and lesbians but they don't want to call it marriage.
"Although they're not opposed to same-sex unions, they don't understand at all why we would change the definition of the term marriage," said Yolande Thibeault, a Liberal MP from the suburban Montreal riding of Saint-Lambert. "It's the word marriage that's the obstacle."
Liberal backbenchers can break party ranks because they have been promised a free vote.
Cabinet ministers, however, are required to vote for the government bill to keep their jobs. But even they are not solidly behind the bill, the survey shows.
Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, a senior minister, said he is undecided and must consult his constituents.
Fisheries Minister Robert Thibault, Labour Minister Claudette Bradshaw, Veterans Affairs Minister Rey Pagtakhan and junior foreign minister David Kilgour are also undecided.
But several other ministers refused to answer the question, a sign of the discomfort they face: Gerry Byrne, Atlantic Development; Ethel Blondin-Andrew, Secretary of State for Children and Youth; Paul DeVillers, Amateur Sport; and Jean Augustine, junior minister for multiculturalism and the status of women.
For the survey, reporters in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau contacted the offices of all 171 Liberal MPs. Seven were out of the country or otherwise impossible to reach, while 29 would not answer or did not respond to repeated telephone calls.
Almost all the Liberal MPs are expected to gather for a three-day caucus meeting that begins Aug. 19, where many who have not met since the government proposed the bill promise an all-out confrontation.
To attempt to sway the undecided, Mr. Chrétien will argue for the bill when he meets the MPs, aides say.
"He's not going to preach. He's going to outline again what his position is, which is that there needs to be a separation between church and state, and that this is an issue of equality, and the government needs to protect the equality of all Canadians," spokeswoman Thoren Hudyma said.
"The Prime Minister will probably talk about the importance of the courts in the process. Also he's going to talk about the reality of the Charter of Rights."
In recent months, courts in Ontario and British Columbia have struck down the traditional heterosexual definition of marriage as a discriminatory violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and same-sex marriages are already being performed in those provinces.
The federal government chose not to appeal, and instead proposed a bill to legalize same-sex marriages. But first, the Supreme Court of Canada is being asked whether that is constitutional. Then MPs will be allowed a free vote on the bill.
On the opposition side of the House of Commons, the vote is also split, but largely along party lines.
The Canadian Alliance (63 seats) and at least half the Tory caucus's 15 MPs are expected to vote against, giving opponents 70 to 75 votes. Most of the Bloc Québécois and NDP, and some Tories, will vote for, giving supporters 55 to 60 votes.
Many Liberal opponents of the bill say they are simply responding to their constituents' views. They said they have been flooded with complaints in their ridings since the government announced the move in June.
"I even hate to go to the grocery store. People just grab you by the arm and say, what is happening up in Ottawa? They cannot understand why this is an issue at this time," said Rose-Marie Ur, MP for Lambton-Kent-Middlesex.
Some opponents argue that court rulings that struck down the traditional definition of marriage should have been appealed at the Supreme Court, however.
"We just laid down and said whatever the courts say," said Brenda Chamberlain, Liberal MP for Guelph-Wellington. "What about what the people say?" However, many who support the bill suggest the opposition is vocal but not the majority. Polls show a majority of Canadians -- 54 per cent in a June Ipsos-Reid survey -- favour legalizing same-sex marriage.
Others who endorse same-sex marriage say it is not a matter of public opinion.
"It is a fundamental issue of human rights," Montreal MP Marlene Jennings said.
The dissenters also note the government promised that same-sex-marriage legislation would not be introduced when the Commons overwhelmingly voted to retain the traditional definition in 1999. Anne McLellan, who was then the justice minister and made the promise, now supports the legalization of same-sex marriage.
Richmond, B.C., MP Joe Peschisolido, who was elected as a Canadian Alliance MP and switched parties, said he has received more than 3,000 letters, e-mails, and calls: and 80 per cent are against same-sex marriage.
Where they stand The Globe contacted the offices of all 171 MPs to ask whether they are for or against the government's drat bill to legalize same-sex marriage. The bill changes the definition of marriage to include all unions of two people, regardless of sex, but does not force churches to marry same-sex couples.
Those who said they have not chosen which way they will vote are recorded as undecided, while those who were out of the country or otherwise impossible to reach are listed as unavailable. Overall results
For 60 Against 48 Undecided 27 Unavailable 7 Won't say 29
Adams, Peter For Alcock, Reg Unavailable Allard, Carole-Marie Against Anderson,David (Min.) For Assad, Mark Won't say Assadourian, Sarkis Against Augustine, Jean (Min.) Won't say Bagnell, Larry For Bakopanos, Eleni Unavailable Barnes, Sue For Barrette, Gilbert Against Beaumier, Colleen For Bélair, Réginald Undecided Bélanger, Mauril For Bellemare, Eugène Against Bennett, Carolyn For Bertrand, Robert Against Bevilacqua, Maurizio (Min.) For Binet, Gérard For
Blondon-Andrew, Ethel (Min.).Won't say
Bonin, Raymond Against Bonwick, Paul Won't say Boudria, Don (Min.) For Bradshaw, Claudette (Min.) Undecided Brown, Bonnie Won't say Bryden, John Against Buite, Sarmite For Byrne, Gerry Won't say Caccia, Charles (Min.) Won't say Calder, Murray Against Cannis, John Against Caplan, Elinor (Min.) For Carroll, Aileen Undecided Castonguay, Jeannot Undecided Catterall, Marlene For Caucho, Martin (Min.) For Chamberlain, Brenda Against Charbonneau, Yvon Unavailable Chrétien, Jean For Coderre, Denis (Min.) For Collenette, David For Comuzzi, Joe Against Copps, Sheila (Min.) For Cotler, Irwin Unavailable Cullen, Roy Against Cuzner, Rodger Undecided DeVillers, Paul (Min.) Won't say Dhaliwal, Herb (Min.) Undecided Dion, Stéphane (Min.) For Discepola, Nick For Dromisky, Stan Won't say Drouin, Claude For Duplain, Claude Against Easter, Wayne (Min.) For Efford, R. John Against Eggleton, Art Undecided Eyking, Mark Won't say Farrah, Georges Won't say Finlay, John Against Folco, Raymonde Unavailable Fontana, Joe Won't say Frulia, Liza For Fry, Hedy For Gallaway, Roger Against Godfrey, John For Goodale, Ralph (Min.) For Graham, Bill (Min.) For Grose, Ivan For Guarnieri, Albina Against Harb, Mac For Harvard, John For Harvey, André Unavailable Hubbard, Charles Against Ianno, Tony For Jackson, Ovid Against Jennings, Marlene For Jobin, Christian Undecided Jordan, Joe For Karetak-Lindell, Nancy Won't say Karyglannis, Jim Against Keyes, Stan Won't say Kilger, Bob Against Kilgour, David (Min.) Undecided Knutson, Gar (Min.) For Kraft Sloan, Karen For Laliberte, Rick Won't say Lastewka, Walt Against LeBlanc, Dominic For Lee, Derek Undecided Leung, Sophia Undecided Lincoln, Clifford Undecided Longfield, Judi Against MacAulay, Lawrence Won't say Macklin, Paul Harold For Mahoney, Steve (Min.) For Malhi, Gurbax Against Maloney, John Against Manley, John (Min.) For Marcil, Serge Won't say Marleau, Diane Won't say Martin, Paul For Matthews, Bill Won't say McCallum, John (Min.) For McCormick, Larry Won't say McGuire, Joe Won't say McKay, John Against McLellan, Anne (Min.) For McTeague, Don Against Milliken, Peter (Speaker) Won't say Mills, Dennis Against Minna, Maria Unavailable Mitchell, Andy (Min.) For Murphy, Shawn Against Myers, Lynn Undecided Nault, Robert (Min.) For Neville, Anita For Normand, Gilbert Against O'Brien, Pat Against O'Brien, Lawrence Won't say O'Reilly, John Against Owen, Stephen (Min.) For Pacetti, Massimo Against Pagtakhan, Rey (Min.) Undecided Paradis, Denis (Min.) For Parrish, Carolyn For Patry, Bernard For Peric, Janko Against Peschisolido, Joe Against Peterson, Jim Won't say Pettigrew, Pierre (Min.) For Phinney, Beth Undecided Pickard, Jerry Against Pillitteri, Gary Against Pratt, David Undecided Price, David Undecided Proulx, Marcel Undecided Provenzano, Carmen Against Redman, Karen Undecided Reed, Julian Against Regan, Geoff Won't say Robillard, Lucienne (Min.) For Rock, Allan (Min.) For Saada, Jacques For Savoy, Andy Undecided Scherrer, Hélène Undecided Scott, Andy For Serré, Benoit Won't say Sgro, Judy Against Shepherd, Alex Undecided Simard, Raymond Won't say Speller, Bob Against St-Jacques, Diane For St-Julien, Guy Against St. Denis, Brent For Steckle, Paul Against Stewart, Jane (Min.) For Szabo, Paul Won't say Telegdi, Andrew Undecided Thibault, Yolande Undecided Tirabassi, Tony Won't say Tonks, Alan Undecided Torsney, Paddy For Ur, Rose-Marie Against Valeri, Tony Undecided Vanclief, Lyle (Min.) For Volpe, Joseph Against Wappel, Tom Against Whelan, Susan (Min.) For Wilfert, Bryon Against Wood, Bob Against