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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 09:35 GMT 10:35 UK
Close vote on Canada gay marriage
Michael Stark (right) and Michael Lechner fill out their applications for a marriage licence, Toronto, 10 June 2003
Polls show slight majority in favour of same-sex marriages

A motion to thwart the Canadian Government's push for the legalisation of gay marriages has been narrowly defeated.

Politicians voted 137 to 132 to defeat the motion put forward by the Canadian Alliance reaffirming marriage only as a "union of one man and one woman".

The result means the Liberal government - which faces an election next year - can move forward its proposed legislation.

But correspondents say the closeness of the vote highlights the deep divisions within the government, and in the country at large, over the issue.

The Justice Minister, Martin Cauchon, was upbeat about the outcome of the vote.

"Tonight you had a good demonstration that, indeed, society has evolved, and I believe we're going in the right direction," he said.

But campaigners were less optimistic. "It is not enough that the cause is just, that the Constitution is clear, that public opinion has changed," said Alex Munter of Canadians for Equal Marriage.

"The message today is we can never take our basic rights for granted," he added.

'Warning signal'

Alliance leader Stephen Harper said the vote proved the issue was likely to dominate next year's elections.

"It should send a warning signal to them that they've got some big problems on this issue and they've got them with core Liberal voters," he said.

Around 50 Liberals voted against their government on the issue and 31 legislators did not vote at all.

"In my view, it would be foolish and dangerous to discard the traditional definition of marriage," said one rebel MP Pat O'Brien. "I cannot in good conscience and I will not support any attempt to redefine marriage."

Paul Martin, who is widely tipped to be the next Prime Minister when Jean Chretien retires in the New Year, voted against the motion.

He declared the national fabric strong enough to withstand the marriage debate.

Polls show a slight majority of Canadians support same-sex marriage although some regions of the country are fiercely opposed to the move.

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