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Equal Marriage and the Law in Canada

May 30, 2003

Committee will support equal marriage
Their report will not be unanimous

From the very beginning, when Canada's Justice Minister first released his discussion paper on marriage, there was only one workable option for Parliament: equal marriage for same-sex couples. Court victories in Ontario and Quebec clearly said the government was violating our Charter rights by refusing to register our marriage and issue licenses to other couples (some committee members clung to a poorly reasoned defeat for equal marriage in British Columbia, but that crutch was removed earlier this month, when an appeal court aligned itself with Ontario's July 12, 2004 deadline to change the discriminatory marriage law).

The government played with the idea of interfering with the provincial and federal roles in marriage, or removing itself from any role with marriage, but these were never really options. In a rare moment of affinity with the Alliance Party (the main defender of discrimination against gays and lesbians), we agreed with M.P. Vic Toews' view that there was no need to hear further testimony on the issue. The government could either adhere to the Charter or it could invoke the document's notwithstanding clause and declare same-sex couples to be outside of the Charter's protection.

"... if the [Justice] minister thinks that Parliament has such a substantial role to play in this question, there is a clear remedy for this issue, and that is the use of section 33, the override clause," said Toews in a committee meeting on November 27, 2002. "We don't have to go around hearing from Canadians if he's already determined where he's going to go and if he wants to maintain the traditional concept of marriage. He has his remedy. Either we go to the courts and ask them what they want, or Parliament speaks as it did two or three years ago in an overwhelming vote of 216 to 55 to retain the traditional definition of marriage."

A Late Spring

We said we would use all of our resources and opportunities to denounce the Liberal party's ongoing fight against our rights. We told Andy Scott, chair of the justice committee, we'd be his "worst friend" until we saw the Liberal government abandon their case against us in court and move towards recognizing our rights. Then we would be his "best friend", we promised.

But the government persisted in putting same-sex couples through the indignity of defending their love in the company of bigots who linked same-sex marriage to polygamy, incest, pedophilia, bestiality, and the end of civilization. We were compared to alcoholics, with a disease we could overcome. We could be induced to "abstain or leave the country" if "body parts are lopped off". No wonder the hearings were labeled a "cruel joke". It was gay bashing in the name of "justice".

When Liberal M.P. Andy Scott, the chair of the committee, enquired if we would present ourselves before the group, we declined (privately, without discouraging anyone else from participating). The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, and lawyer Douglas Elliott would speak for us. We told Scott that we would speak directly to the Canadian public through speeches, public appearances, interviews, and the various outlets for our writing. We said we would use all of our resources and opportunities to denounce the Liberal party's ongoing fight against our rights. We promised to be his "worst friend" until we saw the Liberal government abandon their case against us in court and move towards recognizing our rights. Then we would be his "best friend", we promised.

The beginning of a new relationship

We first heard hints of a thaw in the Liberal government's opposition to equal marriage, in private, off-the-record comments made to us and our friends/supporters. But there was nothing to report until today. This morning, the Ottawa Citizen carried a news report with the headline "Committee backs homosexual marriages".

The committee's draft report, still confidential and in the hands of a divided committee, will, as expected, contain alternative recommendations. Some committee members' opposition to equal marriage was clear from the start: another reason why the rationale of the committee was always in question.

"The only unanimous position among committee members is they agree that the status quo -- which defines marriage as the voluntary union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others -- is no longer acceptable under Canadian law," the Ottawa Citizen reports, based on comments from members of the committee.

We expect the Justice Minister will at last select the one acceptable option that has been there all along. Perhaps he will delay for some time, until the Court of Appeal for Ontario delivers the next anticipated victory for equal marriage, or maybe, at most, until the Quebec appeal (scheduled for late September) is heard and a decision delivered. But the game is over, and everyone understands that. Even Catholic Paul Martin, bless him, has agreed to abide by the court's demand for equality (this week he said the Ontario appeal should be the final court battle over this issue).

The Supreme Court of Canada is going to have one less case to ponder, and for the first time in history, we expect the Liberal party will extend a right to the gay community without being ordered to do so by the highest court in the country.

Since it appears that the Liberal party is finally beginning to stand down from their fight against equal marriage, we too will, as promised, begin to change our position. We're prepared to become friends with the Liberal party. Imagine the things we can do together, working for equality with the other parties who have been with us all along (thank you friends in the Bloc Québécois and the New Democratic Party ... and the brave souls of conscience in the Progressive Conservative and Liberal parties who spoke in defiance of colleagues who were against us) . With the battle nearing an end in courts of law, we still have much work to do in the court of public opinion, as the Justice Committee so painfully revealed.

Details about Parliament's Marriage Committee Hearings


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