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Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with the media in Ottawa Thursday after the government failed to pass a motion to reopen the same-sex marriage debate. ((Tom Hanson/Canadian Press))

A motion to reopen the same-sex marriage debate was easily defeated in Parliament on Thursday, as expected.

MPs voted 175-123 against the controversial motion tabled by the ruling Conservatives.

The motion had asked the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages.

The Liberal and Conservative parties allowed their members to vote freely, and there were some surprises.

Twelve Tories— including cabinet ministers Peter MacKay, David Emerson, John Baird, Jim Prentice, Lawrence Cannon andJosée Verne — broke from party lines and voted against the motion.

"It was simply a matter that I felt had received fair discussion and airing in the House of Commons and other venues, and I feel there are other pressing matters before the Canadian people and certainly before this chamber right now," MacKay said after the vote.

Most Liberals present gave the motion thethumbs down. Among them wereJoe Comuzzi, who gave up his cabinet post in 2005 so he could vote against a same-sex marriage bill proposed by the Liberal government.

Thirteen Liberals supported the motion.

All Bloc Québécois and NDP members present voted against Thursday's motion, as their party leaders had directed.

Since Prime Minister Stephen Harper said a free vote— promised during January's general election campaign— would settle the matter, the vote should put an end to parliamentary wrangling about same-sex marriage.

"We made a promise to have a free vote on this issue; we kept that promise, and obviously the vote was decisive and obviously we'll accept the democratic result of the people's representatives," Harper said Thursday following the vote. "I don't see reopening this question in the future."

Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion said Harper must now accept defeat.

"It was the wrong move to question the rightsof the people and to try to override the Charter [ofRights and Freedoms].He must not be very proud of that."

Victory bittersweet, activist says

Laurie Arron, national co-ordinator for Canadians for Equal Marriage, said the victory is bittersweet.

He said he's pleased the vote was defeated, and by such a large margin, but it's unfortunate the issue came up at all. He said he and others already fought hard to have same-sex marriages legalized in Canada in 2005.

"I'm relieved that we're not going to have to fight this battle again," he told CBC News Online. "This issue's been debated to death. I'm glad today it's finally laid to rest."

Same-sex marriagebecame legal in Canada last year when the Liberal government passed Bill C-38 in response to a series of court rulings that saidgays had the right to marry.

That bill passed 158-133.

Thirty-two Liberals voted against it, while 95 supported it. Only three Conservatives gave the bill the thumbs up.

Thursday's motion hollow, Liberals say

Liberals called this most recent motion hollow because, even if it had passed, it would not have struck down the rightof gays to marry.

Most constitutional lawyers have said the only way the Tories could change the law would be to invoke the notwithstanding clause of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, something Harper has said he would not do.

Charles McVety, head of the conservative Canada Family Action Coalition which is opposed to same-sex marriage, said his group will not give up the fight.

"The people of Canada are not going to let this go, because marriage is too important an institution to just let it evaporate because of the emotions of a few people in Parliament," he told a news conference.