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Inside Politics

Canada acts on same-sex marriages

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- June is Gay Pride Month, when gay Americans press their case for change. This particular June, all they have to do is look across the border, to this week's political Play of the Week.

Niagara Falls, the honeymoon destination that straddles the U.S.-Canadian border, has taken on a whole new meaning.

"We will ensure that our legislation includes and legally recognizes the union of same-sex couples," Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien said on Thursday.

He has introduced a bill to permit same-sex marriages, a move that follows court rulings in Canada striking down the country's definition of marriage because it specified a union between a man and a woman. In Ontario, courts have already allowed legalized same-sex marriages.

In Canada, there's one reality where same-sex couples can be pronounced, "lawfully married spouses."

Michael, who was recently married to his partner in Canada said, "We are just two ordinary Canadians who love each other"

In the United States, on the other hand, it's a different reality.

"We walked out of that church married and cheered by our friends and family and yet, legally, we were just ... the same strangers as we were that walked in the doors of that church," said Brendon Fay, a New Yorker, who had a commitment ceremony with his partner in the United States. They are going to Canada next month to be married.

Will the new reality of gay marriage in Canada affect the United States? You bet it will.

It will present thorny legal complications.

"It's not that the States will be forced to recognize marriages from Canada in the United States, but they'll be under increasing pressure in any number of circumstances -- child custody and property being the two most obvious -- to recognize those marriages," said Neal Katyal, a professor at Georgetown University Law School, in an interview on CNN's "NewsNight" on Wednesday.

Canada's not anti-American. But it's always prided itself on being different from the United States -- less violent and less religious.

In Canada, a narrow majority polled -- 54 percent -- favors the idea of same-sex marriage, while Americans have been resolutely opposed.

American conservatives claim what happens in Canada has nothing to do with the United States.

"Same-sex marriage devalues the real thing in the same way that counterfeits devalue the authentic," said Ken Conner of the Family Research Council.

But gay rights activists say what's happening in Canada will force Americans to contend with new experiences.

"There's never before been a chance in North America for businesses and states and others to grapple with the reality of a married couple before them who happened to be gay, and are we going to honor them or are we going to disrespect them?" said Evan Wolfson, author of the book, "Freedom to Marry."

What we'll do right now is say, for Canada, it's the political Play of the Week.

Canada is also pushing to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana.

Do you suppose Canada -- which opposed the U.S. war in Iraq -- is doing these things, in part, to stick it to the United States? Hmmm ...

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