GAY RIGHTS Same-sex marriage bill approaches Canadian parliament

Catholics and conservatives are turning up the rhetoric.
TORONTO (AP) -- As gay-rights activists head to Ottawa for the final stage in their long battle to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, Roman Catholic clergy are crossing the line that separates church and state to demand that legislators defeat the proposition.
They have pledged to bring the debate to their pulpits today and have called on Prime Minister Paul Martin to consider the moral consequences of allowing homosexual unions nationwide. Gays and lesbians can already marry in seven provinces and one territory, including Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.
Across the globe in China on a trade mission, Martin said he would stake his leadership on defending the right of gay couples to wed under Canada's Charter of Rights, the country's 1982 counterpart to the U.S. Bill of Rights.
The debate is being closely watched south of the border, as gay marriage is opposed by a majority of Americans, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll taken in November, shortly after constitutional amendments in 11 states to ban same-sex marriage were approved.
Church and state
Canada's constitution, like America's, separates the powers of church and state, though it acknowledges that Canada is founded "under the supremacy of God."
The battle begins in earnest on Jan. 31, when the House of Commons reconvenes and will consider a bill put forward by Martin's government. Supporters and opponents alike say the bill's chances are still too close to call.
Quebec Archbishop Marc Cardinal Quellet said in an open letter Friday that Canadians should not underestimate the impact of such legislation: "We must not forget that every law is the expression of a commonly held value that shapes the culture of a society. We therefore find ourselves at a turning point in the evolution of Canadian society. This should not be overlooked by those who shape and form our laws."
Canada's Supreme Court ruled in early December that gay marriage was constitutional, in a landmark opinion that allows the federal government to call on Parliament to legalize gay and lesbian unions nationwide.

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