VANCOUVER, British Columbia — After a two-year-long heated debate, Canadian Parliamentarians approved Bill C-38 on June 28 allowing same-sex couples to marry. The legislation is now before the Senate, where it is in the final stages of being approved before it becomes law. The decisive vote could take place next week.

Bill C-38 was adopted in Parliament by a vote of 158-133. The bill, championed by Canada’s Liberal government, was supported by a majority of the Liberal Party’s Members of Parliament (MPs). The bill was supported by nearly all left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) and Bloc Quebecois members. Thirty-two Liberal MPs opposed the legislation, five were absent, and one cabinet member resigned his post because he could not support same-sex marriage.

The passage of the legislation marked a solid defeat for Canada’s Conservative Party, which threatened to stall the legislation by bringing the government down during the budget debate and forcing a new election.

When this failed, Canada’s conservatives went all-out for the rejection of the legislation, which changes the definition of civil marriage to “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.” It also allows churches the right to refuse to marry gay couples.

“I think Canada is now sending out a signal that it is possible to really provide full equality to people with different sexual orientations and to celebrate those relationships,” said NDP leader Jack Layton after the vote. “I think it will sound a real clarion call around the world and perhaps reduce the hatred and the animosity and perhaps move toward a society where all are really considered equal.”

“This is a proud and exciting time to be a Canadian, as we have affirmed once again our worldwide reputation as a country that is open, inclusive and welcoming,” remarked Alex Munter of Canadians for Equal Marriage. “Our parliamentarians have said that the Canadian thing to do is to end discrimination and to extend full citizenship to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

The bill has already passed a second reading in the Senate and is currently before a committee where it is being studied, prompting its supporters to be guardedly optimistic. However, Munter warns, “Equality opponents are massively well funded and well organized. They want to drag this issue out as long as possible. They will continue their fight in the Senate.”

Conservative leader Stephen Harper has vowed to make same-sex marriage a key issue in the next federal election. He said that if his party forms the next government, it would pass legislation to abolish same-sex marriage. Instead, the Conservative Party proposes allowing civil unions that will grant same-sex couples the same rights as married couples, they claim.

If Canada’s Senate passes Bill C-38, Canada will join Belgium, The Netherlands and more recently Spain as the only countries in the world allowing same-sex marriage. Spain’s Parliament just passed legislation giving same-sex couples the right to marry and adopt children.