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Equal Marriage and the Law in Canada

June 20, 2003

Same-sex marriage heats things up!
The Summer of Love

"I donít think anyone is ready for this kind of change, but when it happens itís very exciting and positive and people will adjust. It will come through further education. Weíve won in the court of law, we canít really say weíve won in the court of opinion yet. That will take more time. I think we have to reach out to those who have fought us so hard. We live in the same community. Joe and I personally do not wish to take the victory and walk away off the court. We have to do some more work with those who have opposed us and move from tolerance to true acceptance."
Kevin Bourassa, Boston Phoenix, June 20-26, 2003


Within hours, following the monumental June 10 decision from the Court of Appeal for Ontario, same-sex couples in this province began exercising their legal right to marriage. There would be no going back. The City of Toronto acted immediately, and the provincial government soon confirmed it would register the marriages.

We waited hopefully for the federal government to respond in a similar fashion. A victory in Ontario was a hollow victory without a timely solution for couples elsewhere in Canada, including the couples and lawyers involved in the British Columbia and Quebec cases. These battles, lost and won, helped convince our federal government to accept equal marriage. "Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell's marriage became official this week, two years after they said their vows. That ceremony, it turns out, was historic: Canada's first, officially sanctioned gay marriage."
MetroWest Daily News (Massachusetts), June 15, 2003

Standing Committee Stand-off

The first signs of movement in Ottawa came on June 12 when the Standing Committee for Justice and Human Rights barely voted to recommend that Parliament accept the Ontario decision. The tie-breaking vote for equal marriage came from the chair of the committee, Liberal MP Andy Scott, in a process that included the replacement of opponents to same-sex marriage with more agreeable M.P.s.

While we watched Mr. Scott on live television, we applauded the New Brunswick Member of Parliament as he spoke about being "informed" by the recent court decisions and the testimony about marriage heard by the committee. Mr. Scott's public support was an important and significant step forward. Since Mr. Scott's lead, other M.P.s have been listening and learning, building consensus for the final approval of same-sex marriage in Parliament.

Justice Minister prepared the way for the P.M.

On June 16, Canada's Minister of Justice Martin Cauchon advised the Prime Minister's cabinet to stop the court battles against gay and lesbian couples, and to accept same-sex marriage nation-wide. News traveled around the world on June 17 when Prime Minister Chretien announced the Canadian government would stop the legal battle and support rolling out equal marriage beyond Ontario, to the rest of Canada.

The Prime Minister said that his government will:

  • Draft legislation aligned with the common-law definition of marriage that came into effect on June 10.
  • Protect faith communities from having to perform any marriage that does not conform to religious values.
  • Seek approval from the Supreme Court of Canada, to ensure that the marriage law complies with the Charter, and that it is applicable to all provinces/territories.
  • Introduce the new law in Parliament's next session (September) for a "free vote"
"Canada has legalized gay marriages. So, what's happening in the bastion of freedom, the home of democracy and human rights, the greatest country on Earth? The Supreme Court is trying to decide whether someone like me should have to serve prison time for my crime against humanity: Loving someone in a way that they don't approve of. As a decorated Marine Corps Vietnam veteran, I never in my life thought I'd someday be considering moving to Canada."
Michelle Kaye, San Francisco Chronicle, June 19, 2003

People impatient for Parliament to catch-up

"My same-sex partner and I applied for a marriage license back in 2000, it was held in abeyance because of court challenges. We have spent the last three years in court and shortly after the May 1 decision of the B.C. Court of Appeal we wrote to vital statistics, asking when we could expect our certificate. So far there has been no response. With respect we ask you to instruct your staff to begin issuing marriage certificates to those who apply."
Lloyd Thornhill and Robert Peacock in a June 10 email to British Columbia justice minister, Geoff Plant.

Same-sex marriages have been happening all across the province, with local stories aplenty: enough to drive home the point to every corner of the province, and beyond. On Canada's east coast, Wayne and Art Toole were married in Ontario and they returned home to New Brunswick seeking to share the same last name. Similar stories are emerging in every province of the country.

In the Quebec marriage case , Michael Hendricks and Rene LeBeouf have filed an appel incident (i.e., a counterappeal) saying, "We have no intention of withdrawing our appel incident until we are sure that same-sex couples will have the same access to civil marriage from coast-to-coast-to-coast as do opposite-sex couples."

Couples involved in the B.C. Marriage Case are seeking to have their victory in the B.C. Court of Appeal implemented immediately too, rather than delayed until Parliament passes legislation in September.

"Congratulations to our neighbours to the North from some of your friends in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. You have accomplished in a short time what so many of us in the supposedly free United States of America have tried to accomplish for years. Your legacy may move on to the USA through our courts, and to other countries as well"
Scott Ohlman & Wild Bill Klitzkie,
from our
June mail.

 

Nothing prevents any of the provincial premiers from complying with the new federal definition of marriage that became law on June 10. Within days, each province could start issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples, just as Ontario has, but instead they delay while Ottawa makes its own preparations and couples continue to pressure for change.

A new focus on Alberta

Alberta is the only province to say that they will fight the new law, but the Prime Minister's referral of the issue to the Supreme Court of Canada is a pre-emptive strike against Premier Klein's pretensions. Still, couples in that province hope they won't be abandoned by those of us living under better governance. On June 12, we received the following email from Ivann:"I would like all brothers and sisters of same-gender, who are sharing the same thoughts and vision of what it is to be legally married and recognized by the Canadian law, to continue the fight for rights in Alberta."
Ivann, email,
June 12, 2003

"First of all, I would like to congratulate all sisters and brothers who fought really hard for our rights and bringing in the recognition of same sex marriage. As far as we all know, same sex couples are capbale of long lasting and loving relationships. I have no doubt about same sex relationship because i am one of the couples who are looking forward to have our marriage registered in Alberta.

"I would like all brothers and sisters of same-gender, who are sharing the same thoughts and vision of what it is to be legally married and recognized by the Canadian law, to continue the fight for rights in Alberta. It is a big shame that we are denied our rights and it is a shame that the big boys out there refused to obey the rulings even though it is a battle that they most unlikely to win."

Advocates are at work. Today, Keith Purdy and Rick Kennedy applied for a marriage licence in Calgary to reminded the Alberta government that citizens in that province expect to have their rights respected. We'll participate in an hour-long phone-in radio program on June 25 (9:00), on CHAT-1270, Medicine Hat, Alberta. Please consider how you can help to ensure Alberta complies with the law.

And Beyond

"While it may take some time, we are optimistic that having equality in marriage so close to home will be a catalyst in eventually bringing full marriage equality to us here in the U.S. as well. With hard work and perseverance, we plan to make it happen! Congratulations again and keep up the great work!"
Marriage Equality New York, from our June mail.

Couples from around the world are planning trips to get married in Canada. Visitors are advised to be informed, prior to making this important decision. The international impact is just beginning, raising expectations in other countries where, increasingly, this human rights struggle is making progress.

As we gain our rights in Ontario, and the rest of Canada, we cannot forget that many people live without the justice and equal treatment now enjoyed here. And we remember partners with loved-ones who did not live to see this day.


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