VANCOUVER, British Colombia — A Supreme Court ruling on Dec. 9 that same-sex marriage is constitutional has paved the way for the introduction of legislation that will legalize gay marriage in Canada.

The court observed that the legal definition of marriage will likely change with public opinion over time. “Several centuries ago, it would have been understood that marriage be available only to opposite-sex couples,” it said. “The recognition of same-sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today.” The court also ruled that churches cannot be forced to marry same-sex couples.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said his government will introduce a bill shortly after Christmas to legalize same-sex marriage, and that while cabinet ministers would be compelled to support the bill, Members of Parliament would be free to vote their conscience. “For many Canadians and many Parliamentarians, this is a very difficult issue involving personal and religious convictions, and it represents a very significant change to a long standing institution,” he said.

Liberal Party sources told the Toronto Globe and Mail that legislation allowing same-sex marriage would pass by a margin of about 25 votes in the 308-member Parliament.

“Equal marriage is something whose time has come,” stated Gilles Marchildon, executive director of the gay and lesbian advocacy group EGALE, who welcomed the Supreme Court ruling. “Just last week, South Africa expanded civil marriage to include same-sex couples. Spain will soon follow. Around the world, people are realizing that discrimination against lesbian and gay people is wrong.”

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