Photo by, 2001

Justice Pitfield, the only Canadian judge to rule in favour of continuing marriage discrimination against same-sex couples (British Columbia), thought that marriage was locked in a definition from 1867, "a time when this court room was new and illuminated by gaslight," Douglas Elliott, lawyer for MCC Toronto pointed out in the Ontario hearing, "and Canada was a colony in a vast Empire, ruled by a distant Queen, who was also Supreme Commander of the State Church."



"... The law, like the traveler, must be ready for the morrow. It must have a principle of growth."
Justice Cardozo, 1945





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"The public recognition and acceptance of homosexuals as a couple may be of tremendous importance to them and to the society in which they live. To deny homosexual couples the right to make that choice deprives them of the equal benefit of the law."
Supreme Court of Canada,
Egan v. Canada, 1995





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A timeline of Canadian milestones in marriage

  • Prior to 1847 - only Church of England marriages were legal in Ontario. "Unchristianized" aboriginal native marriages were given legal recognition, but only to the extent that they did not offend British Christian conceptions of marriage. Male ogokwe (same-sex) relationships were criminalized, however, with the imposition of the death penalty until 1861.

  • 1847 - Catholic marriages became legal in Ontario.

  • 1857 - Jewish marriages became legal in Ontario. The British Matrimonial Causes Act is adopted in Canada making divorce possible for women on the grounds of adultery.

  • 1871 - Under Manitoba's Act Respecting Married Women, any property a wife holds in her own name is free from her husband's control and debts, but her earnings were her husband's.

  • 1872 - Ontario Legislature passes the Married Women's Property Act, enabling a married woman to claim her earnings as her own, separate from the property of her husband.

  • 1875 - Married women's property legislation is passed in Manitoba.

  • 1882 - Parliament passed legislation repealing the prohibition against marriage between a man and the sister of his deceased wife.

  • 1884 - Ontario grants married women the right to own property and deal with it or sell it without consulting her husband. Married women's property legislation is passed in Nova Scotia.

  • 1886 - Married women's property legislation is passed in the Northwest Territories.

  • 1907 - Married women's property legislation is passed in Saskatchewan.

  • 1910 - Alberta passes the Married Women's Relief Act, which authorizes the court to give a widow part of her husband's estate if he did not adequately provide for her.

  • 1911 - The Saskatchewan Deserted Wives' Maintenance Act requires husbands to pay support if they deserted their wives or forced them to leave.

  • 1925 - Removal of double standard whereby a husband could sue his wife for divorce on the grounds of adultery alone, but a wife was required to prove that her husband had committed adultery coupled with another marital offence in order to obtain a divorce.

  • 1950 - Marriage finally permitted through a purely civil ceremony by a judge or other official, thus ending the religious monopoloy on marriage in Ontario.

  • 1955 - Restrictions on the employment of married women in the federal public service are removed.

  • 1968 - The Divorce Act simplified divorce, and marital breakdown was included as a ground for divorce.

  • 1970s - It was still legal for a husband to rape his wife Michel Girouard and Regeant Tremblay

  • 1972 - Michel Girouard and Réjean Tremblay, a Quebec musical couple, lobbied for equal marriage. They draw up legal contracts and have Rev. Troy Perry, founder of L.A.-based Metropolitan Community Churches, bless their union.

  • 1974 - Chris Vogel and Richard North were married by a Unitarian Church on Feb 11, after the publication of banns. The wedding ceremony predated the Canadian Charter, and the couple was unsuccessful in court attempts to force the Manitoba government to register the marriage.

  • 1978 - Introduction of the Family Law Reform Act, extending statutory recognition for the first time to heterosexual couples who had been "living in sin" or "without benefit of clergy".

  • 1985 - The Divorce Act was substantially revised with the introduction of “no fault” divorce, permitting couples to obtain a divorce simply by living separately for one year.

  • 1989 - The Canadian Human Rights Commission defined a homosexual couple as a family.

  • 1990 - Parliament replaced the old law on prohibited degrees of consanguinity with the Marriage (Prohibited Degrees) Act, which provided that persons may not marry if they are lineally related by consanguinity or adoption or if they are brother and sister by consanguinity or adoption.

  • 1995 - The Supreme Court of Canada said (Egan v. Canada, [1995] 2 S.C.R. 513 at 593-594) "The public recognition and acceptance of homosexuals as a couple may be of tremendous importance to them and to the society in which they live. To deny homosexual couples the right to make that choice deprives them of the equal benefit of the law." As a result of Egan, sexual orientation was judged to be analogous to other protected personal attributes listed in section 15 of the Charter.

  • 1999 - The Supreme Court of Canada said (Law v. Canada, [1999] 1 S.C.R.497 at 534-535) "It is logical to conclude that, in most cases, further differential treatment will contribute to the perpetuation or promotion of their unfair social characterization, and will have a more severe impact upon them, since they are already vulnerable." M. v. H. directly dealt with the definition of "spouse" and the Supreme Court of Canada recognized same-sex conjugal relationships.

  • 2000 - Bill C-23 was passed in Canada's House of Commons, extending all-but-marriage rights to same-sex couples. The government introduced a definition of marriage in the pre-amble to new legislation: "One man and one woman to the exclusion of all others." The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto announced its plans to read the banns of marriage for two same-sex couples during December, as a step toward performing a legal marriage in January.

  • 2001 - January 14, 2021 the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto performed legal same-sex marriages, issuing government record of marriages. Legal challenges began in an effort to force the government to register the MCC Toront marriages, and to offer marriage through civil means.

  • 2002 - Law Commission of Canada, Parliament's advisers,told the Jusice Minister that same-sex marriage should be legalized. Bill C-23 is discriminatory. Soon after, the Canadian Human Rights Commission added its voice, calling for equal marriage. Ontario court said the ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional (July 12). Quebec court agreed (Sept. 6), as did the provinces of Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. The Justice Minister stalls for time with the release of a "white paper" outlining improbable options to be considered in the new year.
  • 2003 - Year in Review: another great year for same-sex marriage.2003 - Parliament's Committee on Justice and Human Rights considers options (until time passed them by), while court victories continued for equal marriage. British Columbia joined Ontario and Quebec courts in ruling in favour of equal marriage (May 1). The Court of Appeal for Ontario decision (June10) changed the common-law definition of marriage, effective immediately and the January 14, 2021 marriages were declared legal and the government was ordered to register the marriages. The Prime Minister announced the decision to stop legal battles and legalize same-sex marriage for all of Canada (June 17). B.C. opened marriage to same-sex couples on July 8. The Justice Minister is awaiting a review of the planned legislation from the Supreme Court of Canada. Legislation was expected to be tabled in 2004.

  • 2004 - A new Prime Minister and a new Justice Minister, fearful of voters in an upcoming spring election, delayed the Supreme Court of Canada review in order to minimize the potential of same-sex marriage becoming an election issue. On March 19, the Quebec Court of Appeal made marriage for same-sex couples legal in that province. Couples press forward with more cases, in the absence of timely responses from Parliament. The Yukon became Canada's first territory to end marriage discrimination on July 14, 2004. Manitoba couples won access to marriage on September 16, 2004. On September 24, 2004, Nova Scotia's Supreme Court did the same for other couples, and ordered the province to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere. Saskatchewan became the 7th region to legalize same-sex marriage on Nov. 5, 2004 and Newfoundland/Labrador on Dec. 21, 2004.

  • 2005 - Parliament began debate on an equal marriage bill on Feb. 16, 2005. Bill C-38 passed second reading on May 4, 2005. Meanwhile, a New Bunswick court cleared the way for marriage equality in that province on June 23, 2005. On June 28, 2005 Parliament passed the third and final reading of the marriage bill. The Senate passed the bill on July 19, 2021 and equal marriage received royal assent on July 20, 2021, making the bill the law of the land. Canada is the fourth country to give same-sex couples access to marriage, after the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain.

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