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Defence Minister Jason Kenney announces a campaign promise to expand the capabilities of Canada's special operations forces at fellow Conservative candidate Trent Fraser's campaign headquarters, in Regina, on Saturday, September 26, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Taylor

MARK TAYLOR/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Almost exactly 13 years have passed since the Michaels (Leshner and Stark) tied the knot in Ontario and became the first Canadian gay couple to marry. It has also been 11 years since Liberal prime minister Paul Martin legalized gay marriage, and nearly a decade since former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper asked Parliament to reconsider the question and quickly folded his tent when the answer was no.

And yet it was only this past weekend that the party Mr. Harper created and led for 12 years finally ended its opposition to same-sex marriage as official party policy.

The decision, taken by Conservative Party members during their convention in Vancouver, was hailed by a former Tory cabinet minister as "a beacon for people around the world."

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Right.

For a party wanting to join this century, supporting same-sex marriage was a no-brainer. The issue is settled as a matter of law, enjoys broad social acceptance, and many within the party have supported it for some time. Making it official was symbolic, at best, if it wasn't merely a cynical political exercise in tidying up what potential party leadership candidate Jason Kenney called "obsolete language."

Perhaps the real news is that Conservative Party members no longer fear the type of ideological schisms that fractured the right-of-centre party in the late 1980s, divisions that brought about the party's ruthlessly enforced public unity of the past decade.

Social conservatives in Vancouver were numerous in opposing the measure – the final vote was 1,036 to 462. Some left in a huff and warned that the party risked alienating its base.

The vote suggests they are no longer in the ascendancy. But looking at another matter of conscience, doctor-assisted dying, one might reach a different conclusion: As was the case with same-sex marriage, the party explicitly rejects something the Supreme Court has ruled constitutional.

If the Conservative Party is to be the moderate, big-tent party it evidently needs to be to return to power, it will have to reconcile its base to even thornier issues. Such as climate change, which was essentially absent from the agenda in Vancouver. Same-sex marriage was a practice exam. Tougher tests await.

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