Ottawa (CP) - It was fought in courtrooms, in legislatures, in street protests, and one of the most turbulent debates in Canadian history was settled Tuesday in Parliament.
The House of Commons voted 158 to 133 to adopt controversial legislation that will make Canada the third country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. Several Liberals marked the occasion by invoking the memory of their party's anointed philosopher king, Pierre Trudeau.
It was the late Liberal prime minister who decriminalized homosexuality in 1969, and whose Charter of Rights and Freedoms became the legal cudgel that smashed the traditional definition of marriage.
Barely two years ago the Liberal government was still fighting same-sex couples in courts across the land.
It changed its tune amid an onslaught of legal verdicts in eight provinces that found traditional marriage laws violated the charter's guarantee of equality for all Canadians.
"(This) is about the Charter of Rights," Prime Minister Paul Martin said earlier Tuesday.
"We are a nation of minorities. And in a nation of minorities, it is important that you don't cherry-pick rights.
"A right is a right and that is what this vote tonight is all about."
Same-sex advocates sprang to their feet and applauded from a packed Commons visitors' gallery, while religious groups looked on in stony silence.
But there was no unanimity even within government ranks. Almost three dozen Liberal MPs voted against the controversial Bill C-38, to cheers from the Tory caucus.
The loudest cheers were for a Liberal who exiled himself to the backbenches to vote against the bill. Joe Comuzzi resigned his cabinet seat Tuesday as minister for northern Ontario's economic development.
The House immediately adjourned for the summer after the same-sex vote, and won't meet again until Sept. 26 - ending one of the most tumultuous sessions in Canadian parliamentary history.
The same-sex marriage bill will become official once it receives approval in the Senate, likely within days. With it the barriers to gay and lesbian weddings will tumble in Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories - the last jurisdictions where courts have not yet struck down traditional marriage laws.
The legislation applies to civic weddings at public places like city halls and courthouses. No religious groups will be forced to sanctify same-sex marriages if they don't want to.
But Conservatives said the debate isn't over yet.
Leader Stephen Harper said he will bring back the same-sex marriage law for another vote if he wins the next election.
"There will be a chance to revisit this in a future Parliament," Harper said. "Our intention is to have a free vote."
How Harper might handle the issue in future is unclear since almost every provincial and territorial government has made gay marriage legal.
The Liberals said Harper has only one tool at his disposal: the Charter's notwithstanding clause, an escape hatch which no federal government has ever used.
"They're going to have to at least be honest with the people," said Justice Minister Irwin Cotler.
"They're going to have to acknowledge that they want to override the (Charter of Rights), override constitutional-law decisions in nine jurisdictions in this country, override a unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, override the rule of law in this country."
Cotler now occupies Pierre Trudeau's former Justice Department office, with a poster of the late justice minister-turned-prime minister overlooking his desk.
The Tories weren't sharing such fond memories of Trudeau.
Alberta MP David Chatters lamented what he described as Canada's "moral decay" and blamed Trudeau's promise of a just society as the start of that decay in the 1960s.
But an Irish-born rookie Liberal MP was quoting Trudeau's famous line about the state having no place in the bedrooms of the nation.
Michael Savage spoke poignantly about a member of his own family, and described the tolerance that he says makes Canada special.
"I have not compromised my faith in supporting this legislation. I have embraced it," he said.
"The fact that we (in Canada) are among the first is not something we should hide. It's something we should celebrate. . . .
"(We are) a nation of equality. A nation of strength. A nation of compassion. A nation that believes we're stronger together than we are apart. And a nation where we celebrate equality. . . .
"We will send a statement to the world that in Canada gays and lesbians will not be considered second-class citizens."
A group of same-sex advocates stood in front of Parliament's front doors to cheer on the politicians who championed their cause.
One religious leader was decidedly downcast. He vowed to keep fighting the legislation through the next election.
"It's a sad day," said Charles McVety, president of the Canada Christian College.
"The great institution of marriage that has built this civilization and the foundation of our society has been defiled by our Parliament.
"And that is sad. It's sad for our children. It's sad for our grandchildren. It's sad for the young people.
"I have a seven-year-old daughter. When she comes of age to be married, will we still have marriage as we know it?"
In the last two years, same-sex marriage has gone from being legally feasible to a fait accompli.
After a series of legal challenges, the walls started tumbling down on June 10, 2003.
The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Michael Leshner and Michael Stark, a gay Toronto couple, and ordered public institutions such as courthouses and city halls to immediately begin issuing same-sex marriage licences.
Scores of same-sex American couples came to Canada to be married. Thousands of Canadians exercised their new right.
The Ontario verdict became written in stone when then-prime minister Jean Chretien announced days later he would throw in the towel in the legal fight against gay and lesbian couples.
The federal government refused to appeal the Ontario ruling, and the verdict was subsequently repeated in courts in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland.
When Martin became prime minister, he avoided the political hot potato and punted it off until after the June 2004 federal election.
But he came out strongly in favour of same-sex marriage in the dying days of the campaign. His Liberals were re-elected with a minority government.
New Democrats celebrated the vote result with a party in Parliament's Centre Block. Leader Jack Layton said Canada has sent a message to the world.
"I think it will sound a clarion call around the world and perhaps reduce the hatred and the animosity and move us to a society where all are considered equal," Layton said.
"I think Canada is now sending out a signal that it is possible to provide full equality to people with different sexual orientations."
The bill was supported by all but one NDPer - Bev Desjarlais, who was subsequently stripped of her two critics' portfolios and banished to a back-row seat in the Commons.
Canada will become the third country to formally recognize same-sex marriage. The legislation comes after decades of debate on homosexual rights. Some milestones:
-1967: Supreme Court upholds lower-court ruling that proposes life imprisonment as a maximum penalty for homosexuality.
-1969: Bill C-150 decriminalizes homosexuality.
-1977: Quebec becomes first province to include sexual orientation in its human-rights code, making it illegal to discriminate against gays.
- 1985: The Charter of Rights and Freedoms promises "equal protection and equal benefit" for all citizens.
- 1989: The Canadian Human Rights Commission declares that homosexual couples should be considered families.
- 1992: Gays and lesbians are given the right to serve in the military.
-1999: The House of Commons - including members of the current Liberal government - votes to preserve definition of marriage as a union between man and woman.
- June 2003: The Ontario Court of Appeal issues a landmark ruling that declares traditional marriage laws unconsitutional.
- June 2004: A married lesbian couple in Ontario files the first same-sex divorce petition in Canada.
- December 2004: Supreme Court says Ottawa has the power to redefine marriage, but says religious officials can't be forced to marry same-sex couples.
- February 2005: Bill C-38 sanctioning gay marriage tabled in the House of Commons.
- June 28, 2005: Bill C-38 is adopted by a vote of 158-133.
Canada becomes the third country to recognize same-sex marriage. A primer on Bill C-38, the legislation making it happen.
-Origins: Legal challenges resulted in Ontario court declaring traditional marriage laws unconstitutional in 2003, under Section 15 of the Charter of Rights. Liberal government declined to appeal, and chose not to invoke the notwithstanding clause.
-Provinces: Courts in seven provinces followed Ontario and thousands of same-sex couples have been married in British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland and the Yukon.
-Federal legislation: Bill to harmonize marriage rules nationally delayed by 2004 election, then re-introduced by minority Liberals. Spring session of Commons extended for first time in 17 years to get the bill passed.
-Becoming law: Once approved by Commons, bill expected to pass Senate and receive royal assent within days.
-Impact: Affects Alberta, P.E.I., Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, which haven't recognized same-sex marriage.
-Religious protection: Legislation promises churches, synagogues, temples and mosques can refuse to marry homosexual couples because Charter also guarantees religious freedom.
-Critics: Opponents say law will be used in future court challenges against religious institutions and marriage laws.
-Divided religions: Most religious groups oppose same-sex marriage, but embraced by some Protestant groups such as United and Unitarian churches. Has divided Anglican church, has support within liberal Judaism.