VANCOUVER – Conservative delegates voted overwhelmingly Saturday at their national convention to effectively accept same-sex marriage, a move Tory MPs and leadership candidates said modernizes their party and sends an important message to Canadians.
In a vote of 1,036-462, Conservative members – following a passionate debate – voted to take a neutral position on marriage and no longer define it as “the union of one man and one woman.”
The change also removes a longstanding policy statement that said Parliament, through a free vote, and not the courts should determine the definition of marriage.
The policy change effectively means the party accepts same-sex unions and that it shouldn’t be in the business of defining marriage for Canadians.
The vote needed and received support from a majority of delegates in a majority of provinces and territories. Saskatchewan was the only province whose Conservative delegates didn’t support the change.
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward Conservative MP Jason Kenny gives the thumbs up at the Conservative Party of Canada convention in Vancouver, Friday, May 27, 2016.
“The Conservative party is the party of rights for all Canadians. It is long past time that we passed this resolution,” Calgary MP Michelle Rempel told delegates, to loud cheers from the more than 1,500 people packed into a ballroom at the Vancouver Convention Centre.
Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, who’s running for the Conservative leadership, supported the change and said the issue is “about freedom and respect.”
“It’s about us and it’s about telling to Canadians that you can love who you are, who you want, and that you can be in love, and I hope that also having fair policies at the federal level,” Bernier said.
Ontario MP Kellie Leitch, another declared leadership candidate, said the policy change is “just the right thing to do.”
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin TangConservative MP Maxime Bernier.
Calgary MP Jason Kenney, who’s weighing a leadership bid, said eliminating the definition of marriage in the policy declaration was a “no-brainer” because it was resolved by the courts more than a decade ago.
“There’s absolutely no point in having a policy declaration that doesn’t reflect reality either in law or social custom,” Kenney said. “It’s just having the language catch up with reality.”
Former cabinet minister Peter MacKay, a perceived leadership frontrunner who hasn’t ruled out a bid, voted for the change and said he was heartened by the transparent way the party dealt with the issue.
“It’s a message of modernization and moving on, and accepting,” MacKay said. “We have to send that signal that we want everybody to work with us to build a better country. So I’m thrilled with the outcome.”
One member who identified himself as a gay Conservative assailed his own party for being a laggard on accepting same-sex marriage.
“As a gay Conservative, I find it troubling that the party of which I’ve been a member for almost 40 years has a policy that tells me my relationship with my partner is not valued, my civil rights are of no concern,” the man told the crowd.
Party delegates and even Preston Manning, the patriarch of the modern-day Conservative party, delivered a message similar to Pierre Trudeau’s famous declaration: “there’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
Goldie Ghamari, a Conservative delegate who supported the change, said she comes from a country where homosexuals are hanged and persecuted in the name of religion, and that her family came to Canada for freedom.
“Government does not have a place in your bedroom,” Ghamari said, to loud cheers.
Outside the room after the vote, Manning said, “the ultimate position should be that the state has nothing to do with the defining of marriage,” which can reconcile positions of social conservatives and libertarians, and mean “people can define marriage as they like.”
However, a number of Conservative parliamentarians don’t support the change, including social conservative Brad Trost, a Saskatoon MP.
“If we as a party start to waffle on this, that line in the sand moves very sharply and becomes much more difficult,” Trost said before the vote.
“I don’t think social conservatives will leave the party because I’m not leaving the party. We’re going to stay and we’re going to fight.”
Rural Manitoba Conservative MP Ted Falk said the proposed policy change was “not about inclusiveness,” but was instead an “attack on our values and principles.”
Other policy changes approved by Conservative delegates on Saturday included:
Members voted to support peace officers issuing issue tickets for “simple possession of small quantities of marijuana,” in an effort to provide more tools for law enforcement in combating drugs and to reduce the volume of judicial proceedings.
The party overwhelmingly voted to support “conscience rights for doctors, nurses, and others to refuse to participate in or refer their patients for abortion, assisted suicide or euthanasia.”
Right to work:
Delegates approved a policy that supports “right-to-work legislation” to allow for optional union membership including student unions.
Delegates voted to “streamline firearms classification” and that a Conservative government would order a review of firearms-related laws “to identify parts of those Acts that have no public safety value.”