The great ‘debate’ in the Canadian parliament yesterday about the legality of gay marriage turned out to be more like a cry in the dark.

The minority Conservative government had made headlines across the world with its pledge to repeal the decision last year to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry.

In the event Prime Minister Stephen Harper did not even turn up for the debate. Neither did most of his cabinet.

Political analysts have pointed out that Harper has virtually no chance of succeeding in taking away the rights of gay and lesbian couples to get married.

In 2005 Canada became only the fourth country in the world to legalise gay marriage. The Canadian House of Commons 158-133 in favour of the change, with then-Prime Minister Paul Martin compelling all ministers to vote with the government.

32 of his own Liberal MPs rebelled and voted against gay marriage, but many of them now say they are in favour of retaining the status quo.

The Conservatives’ Rob Nicholson, who is in charge of legislative business for the minority government, insists that as all MPs did not get a free vote, last year’s historic decision was not properly democratic.

During the federal election campaign at the beginning of 2006 the Conservatives vowed to re-examine the issue of gay marriages if they were elected to government.

“Since marriage is an essential foundation of our society, it is important that a fully democratic decision be taken by the House of Commons whether the institution should be changed,” Mr Nicholson told Reuters.

However MPs from across the political spectrum have attacked the Conservatives for undermining parliament.

The government motion “to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages,” will be voted on today.