The Ontario Legislature approved same-sex legislation yesterday that transforms the definition of traditional marriage, but not without a protracted debate that exposed deep divisions within the Progressive Conservative Party.
Both Conservative and New Democrat members attempted to derail an earlier accord among all three parties to have members of the legislature vote on the bill by simply calling out yea or nay.
Three Conservative members opposed to the legislation demanded a formal vote that would record every MPP's position on the issue. In doing so, they broke ranks with many other party members, including PC Leader John Tory.
Bill Murdoch, one of the Conservatives calling for the recorded vote, said many people in Ontario are against the bill and want to know how their MPPs voted on it.
If the government does not let members vote on bills, "then democracy is lost," he said, at which point a member of his own party, John Baird, heckled him by shouting: "You stood up and told us."
New Democrat Peter Kormos also wanted a recorded vote, but he told reporters he failed to get the support of his party's caucus. While he said he supports the legislation, he said he wanted the recorded vote to expose those Liberal members attempting to divorce themselves from party policy on the same-sex legislation.
"I became disturbed and upset at Liberals who want to have it both ways, who want to be Liberals at Queen's Park but Tories when they go back down to their riding," he told reporters. "That is repugnant behaviour."
Many Conservative members have spoken against the legislation, but they were short of the necessary five members needed for a formal vote on the matter.
The legislation, which passed third reading yesterday, extends the definitions of spouse and marriage in Ontario to include gay and lesbian couples. It also makes it clear that a religious official is not required to perform a marriage or to allow a sacred place to be used for such an occasion if doing so would be contrary to the parties' religious beliefs.
The legislation comes after rulings by courts in seven provinces and one territory that say preventing same-sex couples from marrying is a violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in June, 2003, that excluding same-sex couples from the definition of marriage cannot be justified in a democratic society.