government's same-sex marriage bill divided all four parties last night, but none more than the governing Liberals.
Nearly 40 of the party's MPs broke ranks to support a Conservative motion that would have killed the controversial legislation before the House of Commons even gets to vote on it.
In the end, the Tory motion was defeated 164-132, but the vote placed internal party divisions on full public display.
Four Conservative MPs, including Belinda Stronach and Jim Prentice, two former party leadership candidates, voted with the Liberals, as did most of the New Democratic Party and the Bloc Québécois.
Two Bloc MPs voted with the Conservatives, and New Democrat Bev Desjarlais was in the House but abstained.
After the vote, Prime Minister Paul Martin acknowledged that the issue is difficult for many MPs.
"This has been a difficult subject for many but I believe Canada passed a very important test today. We are a nation of minorities and we cannot pick and choose rights," he said.
Several of the Liberal MPs who voted with the Conservatives said more members of the caucus oppose the government bill but are waiting for a vote on the actual legislation before making their views known.
Cabinet minister Joe Comuzzi, who has mused about voting against the bill even though he would likely lose his post, stated this week he would not break ranks last night because it was a Conservative motion.
A vote on whether to send the main bill to committee is expected soon, but the Conservatives are threatening to delay it.
However, with increasing speculation about a spring election, it appears unlikely the bill will become law before Canadians make another trip to the polls.
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper has set the stage for gay marriage to be a central campaign issue, pledging over the weekend that a Tory government would introduce legislation defining marriage as between a man and a woman.
Yesterday, Mr. Harper promised to keep the issue alive.
"Our amendment represents, we know, the position of most Canadians. We know frankly it represents the position of most parliamentarians if they were to vote their conscience.
"So what I will say simply is if that kind of view does not go through this Parliament, it will be an issue for Canadians in the next election," he said.
Federal Justice Minister Irwin Cotler described Mr. Harper's views as disingenuous.
"What disturbs me about Mr. Harper and with regard to the proposal of his motion [last night] is the disingenuous way in which he approaches these issues, not acknowledging that he would have to use the notwithstanding clause," he said.