- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 28, 2004

OTTAWA — In a move that could enable the government to abandon its push to legalize same-sex “marriages,” Justice Minister Irwin Cotler asked the Supreme Court yesterday whether the constitution required that such unions be allowed.

The Liberal government earlier had posed a softer question, whether it would be constitutional to allow same-sex “marriages,” but it has bowed to pressure from supporters of traditional marriage by asking whether it legally must do so.

Mr. Cotler insisted the new administration of Prime Minister Paul Martin, which took office last month, still supported same-sex “marriage” and would argue for that at the Supreme Court.

“Our support as a matter of principle for same-sex marriage has not changed. It remains the same,” he told a news conference. “But we are aware … that there is division in this country, that for many people this is a difficult question. I note this among my own constituents, friends and the like.”

Expanding the case before the Supreme Court also will ensure that the oral hearing does not take place in the middle of this spring’s expected federal election campaign, which would have increased the hot-button issue’s prominence.

The high court had been slated to hear the government’s original question, and two other routine questions, April 15-16 — but that would put it near the start of a 35-day campaign for a widely expected May election.

The government appears eager to avoid focusing on the issue, which could put some Liberal seats in jeopardy in conservative rural and suburban regions.

“They’re absolutely terrified of it. It’s a huge issue,” said legislator Vic Toews of the official opposition Conservative Party.

Mr. Cotler confirmed he would ask the court to delay its hearing but said this was only to allow for the government and the 18 interveners to prepare their cases.

“Today, Paul Martin’s government is basically saying that they’re going to put equality for gay and lesbian couples on the back burner for a year or more,” said Svend Robinson, a homosexual legislator from the leftist New Democratic Party.

The conservative group Focus on the Family welcomed the broader reference but said it worried that candidates during the campaign would try to hide their views by saying they would wait for the Supreme Court’s opinion.

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