Equal Marriage and the Law in Canada
Clause For Celebration
Confused about conjugality?
The discussion began with Vic Toews, politician from the anti-gay Canadian Alliance party, equating same-sex marriage with domestic arrangements between friends, or a parent-child relationship. "I would see them having more in common with same-sex relationships than with marriage," he said.
Lisa Hitch, Senior Counsel, Policy Sector, Family Children and Youth Section, Department of Justice, was the witness of the day, and she reminded Toews that "in your situation of the mother and daughter ... if you give all of the same obligations as you would for a spousal relationship in the same way that you give all of the benefits, there might be a concern that if the daughter married and left the household, she would owe her mother support obligations under provincial family law," or the eligibility of benefits for the elderly mother might be impacted by the pooled income of her daughter.
Confused about case law?
Mr. Toews, the Alliance Party politician, confused matters further by injecting inaccurate interpretations of Supreme Court of Canada judgements.
"In 1995 there was the Egan decision, stating very clearly that marriages consisted of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others; I believe it was a decision of Mr. Justice LaForest. For the justice department now to come out and say, well, we want to have a very neutral discussion here, and at the same time ignore in this public document--indeed, not even mention, when it's only seven years old--the leading case on what constitutes marriage, is something that I find surprising."
"The religious right clings to LaForest's decision for dear life because they like what he said," Douglas Elliott told us, "but they are either deluding themselves or misleading others when they characterize his reasons as a binding ruling from the Supreme Court of Canada on marriage. I heard the learned justice himself publicly characterize his reasons as the minority opinion, and he should know. In Egan and M v H, the Supreme Court of Canada was careful to say it was not considering marriage but leaving that for another day."
some people discount gay and lesbian relationships and deem them less worthy of
recognition than opposite-sex couples, it seems that even our government is prepared
to consider discounting our rights as well.
Richard Marceau, from the supportive Bloc Québécois said that Canada was sending a message in appealing the Ontario and Quebec court decisions. "Although you claim the [marriage discussion] document you distributed to have no preference, one suspects you don't like the Ontario and Quebec decisions ..."
"In light of the divergent court decisions, the minister feels it's responsible to get the views of the appellate courts on the legal issues. At the same time, he [the Justice Minister] feels very strongly that the Constitution points out there is a role beyond the courts for Parliament to play in determining important social questions such as this, therefore the reference of the question to the parliamentary committee, at the same time as the appeals are proceeding."
That role, beyond the courts, that Ms. Hitch referred to, is the notwithstanding clause of Canada's constitution. A bludgeon that our government can use to clobber Canadian constitutional guarantees. It would be an extreme measure with immense impact.
"[C]an you tell us whether, today, the government is willing to commit to refrain from using section 33 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, i.e. the notwithstanding clause, to ensure that marriage is only recognized when it unites a man and a woman?" Mr. Marceau asked, perhaps not believing what he heard.
"On whether or not we as a government will use the notwithstanding clause, we would very much like to have the recommendations of this committee on that. At this precise time, if you're asking if we need to use the notwithstanding clause, again I would answer that because we have differing trial-level decisions in B.C., Ontario, and Quebec, the issue is not determined yet at the courts."
Clear choice: Equal Marriage or Discrimination
Another option for the federal government is to get out of marriage altogether, leaving marriage to religious institutions. But that would require provinces to agree with the federal direction, as the provinces are in control of how marriages are solemnized or performed.
would need their cooperation in this particular instance because of, as I mentioned,
the constitutional division of powers," said Ms. Hitch. "If the federal
government chose to no longer legislate in the area of capacity, the provinces
would still have the ability to legislate in the area of solemnization. They could
continue to solemnize marriages if they weren't interested in following the federal
approach in this particular area, and this would lead to some significant legal
"Let's be honest," Vic Toews said. "The options are: do you recognize traditional marriage or do you recognize same-sex marriage.
"I don't believe there was a question ..." Ms. Hitch trailed off.
It was clear some members of this committee for justice and human rights were prepared to deny both justice and human rights to a targeted minority in Canada.
Members of the Committee present: Garry Breitkreuz, Chuck Cadman, The Hon. Hedy Fry, Ivan Grose, Derek Lee, Paul Harold Macklin, Richard Marceau, John McKay, Lynn Myers, The Hon. Andy Scott, Kevin Sorenson, Vic Toews.
Acting Members present: Massimo Pacetti for Paul Harold Macklin, Réal Ménard for Pierrette Venne.
In attendance: From the Library of Parliament: Philip Rosen, senior analyst.
Witnesses: From the Department of Justice: Lisa Hitch, Senior Counsel, Policy Sector, Family, Children and Youth Section.
Pursuant to Standing Order 108(2), a study on marriage and the legal recognition of same-sex unions.
The committee next met on December 2, privately, to discuss their budget. It was agreed that $62,500.00 would be adequate for their operational expenses. A travel budget for the committee was not disclosed.
You can write directly to your Member of Parliament or Senator, or send your views to the Minister of Justice at Room 100, 284 Wellington Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0H8, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
To make written and oral submissions to the Standing Committee on same-sex marriage, write to:
Partice Martin, Clerk
Questions about the Committee process should be referred to the Committees Directorate, House of Commons, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0A6 (Tel. (613) 992-3150). Click here for guidance about appearing before a committee.