Same-sex marriages (SSM) in Canada
This essay is largely written for Americans who form about
90% of this web site's visitors.
Many are unfamiliar with details of Canadian culture, laws,
religions, etc. In mid-2005, many were surprised at the news that same-sex marriages (SSM)
became legal in Canada.
Randomly selected, mostly Canadian quotations on SSM:
"Policies have to evolve as circumstances change. At
present, there seems to be a general agreement that policies and reality are
out of sync, but there is no agreement as to how to get them into sync
again. Public opinion is divided as to what are appropriate responses. Some
argue that we should support families wherever there are familial relations,
regardless of the biological, marital, or type of sexual relationship
involved. Others argue that this is precisely where the problems started and
that we must protect the nuclear family against the demands of alternative
types of families to be treated on an equal footing." Author M. Eichler.
is not a normal condition. It is a physical disorder, it a social
disorder and it is a spiritual disorder. Why are we forced to go down
this path of accepting that what they do is equivalent to being
married with children? All we can do is let our government know that
our minister has betrayed the families of Alberta."
Maureen Heron, spokesperson for the Alberta Federation of Women
United for Families 2
"All people should be able to freely choose their intimate partners and
their legal relational status without penalty from the state or without
financial inducement to abandon their choices. The role of the law ought to be
to support any and all relationships that further valuable social goals, and to
remain neutral with respect to individuals' choice of a particular family form
or status." B. Cossman & B. Ryder, Ontario Law Reform
''The federal government has abdicated its leadership role. This
matter has far-reaching consequences nationwide, and the nation's highest court
should be permitted to consider the fundamental issues.'' Derek Rogusky of Focus on the Family Canada.
- "We didn't set out to be activists. We wanted to get married
and just go home. ... People should have the right to marry. Any loving
relationship between two adults -- they should have the right to be
treated with equality and respect." Joe Varnell, after his
church marriage to Kevin Bourassa in Toronto ON on 2001-JAN-14 which the
Ontario government refused to register.
"Gay and lesbian access to marriage by no means endangers the
family, like the claims of certain organizations to the contrary. It
signifies that marriage as an institution may and must adapt itself to
the real diversity of couples and families presented in Quebec society."
Vivian Barbot The Federation of Quebec Women
Human rights in Canada:
Canada's Native, British, and French heritage has "...made diversity
the essence of the Canadian legal tradition." 7 Unlike the U.S. which has
emphasized a melting pot philosophy to accommodate immigrants from all parts
of the world, Canada has emphasized multiculturalism -- a country in which
its citizens are encouraged to cherish their heritage. The valuing of diversity leads
naturally to a respect for human rights. Clifford Lincoln gave a speech
before the Qu©bec National Assembly in 1988
saying: "Rights are rights are rights. There is no such think as inside
rights, and outside rights. No such thing as rights for the tall and rights
for the short. No such thing as rights for the front and rights for the
back, rights for the east and right for the west. Rights are rights and will
always be rights. There are no partial rights."
Some milestones in Canadian human rights history were:
1763: A Royal Proclamation -- also called the Indian Magna Carta or
Indian Bill of Rights --recognized Native peoples as nations. It
affirmed that the "...several Nations or Tribes with whom We are
connected ... should not be molested or disturbed..." in Indian
lands, and lands reserved for their use.
1774: The Quebec Act "granted unprecedented protection to a
conquered people." 7
1807: Ezekiel Hart, a Jew, was elected to the Legislature and
challenged the "Christian only" oath.
- 1832: Jews were allowed to hold public office: a unique right in the
British Empire at the time.
1916: Wilfrid Laurier promoted a "regime of tolerance" for
French speaking Ontarians.
1929: The British Privy Council made a revolutionary ruling that
women are persons, entitled to sit on the Canadian Senate. 10
- 1940: Women in Quebec were given the rights to vote and to stand for
office. Fifty years later, the Roman Catholic bishops in the province
issued an apology to the women of Quebec for their role in delaying the
right to vote.
1948: John Humphrey wrote The Universal Declaration of Human
Rights which was adopted by the UN on 1948-DEC-10.
1949: The Jehovah's Witnesses -- to Canada's shame a heavily
persecuted religious minority -- launched a national campaign to enact a
Bill of Rights.
1960: Prime Minister John Diefenbaker introduced the Canadian
Bill of Rights -- the precursor to the Charter of Rights and
1976: Canada became "...one of a very small number of countries
that accepts the authority of the United Nations Human Rights Committee
to hear complaints brought forth by Canadian citizens." 8
It was only logical that Canada would become
the first country in the western hemisphere -- and the third country in the
world -- to legalize same-sex marriage.
Approaching the same-sex marriage issue from different directions:
Depending upon their foundational beliefs, people develop opposite
positions on same-sex marriage. For example:
A Fundamentalist Christian, believing that
God inspired the authors of the Bible to write text that is
free of errors, will probably interpret the
Bible's six "clobber" passages as prohibiting
all same-sex activities. They might well be more inclined to prefer to
criminalize homosexual behavior than to give same-sex couples the right
- A liberal Christian might well classify those same biblical
in the same category as those parts of the Mosaic Code which called for
the execution of non-virgin brides, the burning alive of some hookers,
etc. Many would heavily weigh the findings of human sexuality
researchers about homosexuality, and reject Leviticus 20:13 which calls
for the execution of men engaged in some same-sex practices. They
probably include discrimination against gays and lesbians in the same
category as sexism, racism, and xenophobia -- as an evil to be fought.
Approaching same-sex marriage from a human rights perspective, most
liberals probably support the right of all loving committed couples to
marry, whether of the same sex or opposite sex.
Needless to say, people on both sides of the debate often have difficulty
communicating their thoughts to the opposing side. True dialogue is almost
The "gay agenda:"
In Canada as in the U.S., many homosexual rights groups claim that 10% of
the adult population is gay. Many conservative religious groups reject this
number and claim that the percentage of gays and lesbians is 2% or less.
Both appear to be wrong. The generally accepted percentage among human
sexuality researchers in both the U.S. and Canada is about 4% for
homosexuals -- adults sexually attracted to members of the same gender --
and perhaps 2% for bisexuals -- adults attracted to both men and women, but
not necessarily to the same degree.
The "gay agenda" is essentially the same in both Canada and the
U.S. It can be expressed in a few words:
Enlarging the definition of marriage to include SSM has been a major goal
of homosexual civil rights groups in recent years. One reason is that
marriage affects all aspects of a married person's life. It typically brings
on the order of 1,500 benefits and obligations to the couple. A second
reason is its immense symbolic value.
Division of government powers concerning marriage:
In both in Canada and the U.S., the authority to create legislation
controlling marriage is divided between the federal and the state/provincial
governments. But the division differs between the two countries:
||In the U.S.
|Laws defining who can marry
|Laws governing marriage licenses, registering marriages,
|Laws giving benefits to married couples
||Shared between federal and Provincial
||Shared between federal and state
In the U.S., SSM might be achievable nation-wide fairly quickly. Gay and lesbian groups
Building upon the Goodridge v. Department of Public Health
decision of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a number
of out-of-state same-sex couples could marry and return to their states
At that point, Article IV, Section 1 of the US Constitution might kick
in. It states that "full faith and credit
shall be given in each state to the...judicial proceedings of every other state."
- Thus, same-sex couples married in one state could conceivably force the remaining 49 states
and the District of Columbia to recognize their marriages.
This belief has not been tested in the courts.
It would obviously have to be ultimately determined by the U.S. Supreme Court. If the
court decided that Article IV did not apply, then gay rights groups would
have to fight for equal rights on a state-by-state basis. That could take
In Canada, the process is much simpler. The Supreme Court of Canada
has already recognized sexual orientation as a protected class. With one
minor exception, it has ruled all cases brought by homosexuals in favor of
equal rights for gays and lesbians.
Lawsuits to allow SSM were originally initiated in three provinces: British Columbia,
Ontario, and Quebec. The province of British Columbia won one case on a
technicality; the gay
and lesbian couples won the other two. The couples later won unanimous decisions
in all three appeals to the provincial Courts of Appeal. The British
Columbia Court of Appeal ordered the federal government to rewrite its
marriage legislation to accommodate same-sex couples. The Ontario Court of Appeal went one step further: it immediately
ordered the Government of Ontario to issue marriage licenses to
same-sex couples and to register their marriages. Most observers expected
the Federal Government to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. However, the
federal cabinet, faced with the unanimous consensus of three senior courts
saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to abandon the appeal route.
The government prepared draft legislation authorizing SSM across Canada.
It was approved as constitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada on
In the meantime, individual lawsuits were launched in Nova Scotia,
Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Yukon. As of 2005-JAN-21, the courts in the
territory of Yukon, and the provinces of
British Columbia, Manitoba,
Nova Scotia, Ontario,
Quebec, and Saskatchewan had all issued
rulings which permit same-sex marriage.
The government submitted their bill, C-38, to Parliament
in 2005-FEB. It passed its final vote in the House of Commons during the evening of
2005-JUN-28. The vote was 158 to 133. The bill passed its final vote in the
Senate by a vote of 47 to 21 with three abstentions on 2005-JUL-19. It was
supported by the NDP party -- a socialist party -- and the Bloc Quebecois --
a separatist party, and many of the ruling Liberal party. It was supported
by very few of the Conservatives -- a far-right party. It was
signed into law on 2005-JUL-20 by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of
Canada. The Governor General, who usually proclaims legislation, was
incapacitated for medical reasons. Once passed by Parliament and the Senate and signed into law, same sex marriage would be
legalized across the entire country.
Support for SSM:
Support for equal rights for gays and lesbians in Canada and the U.S. has
been steadily increasing since the early 1990s.
- The first meaningful studies of homosexuals were made in the 1950 by
It took two decades before the American Psychiatric Association
removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. Such major
changes often take over two decades.
- As is normal in topics like, it took the general public another two
decades to start to change their beliefs towards homosexuals.
- During the 1990s, many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals came out of the
closet and went public with their sexual orientation. A much larger
percentage of the population realized that they had at least one close
friend and/or relative who was gay. Stereotypes began to collapse. Media
coverage became more positive. These trends fed upon each other.
There were also political changes, particularly in Canada:
- During that decade, a series of court decisions recognized the
legitimacy of same-sex relationships, and generally granted same-sex
couples specific rights that married opposite-sex couples had always
Later in the 1990s court decisions prodded governments to initiate
changes in legislation affecting homosexuals and same-sex couples. 6
A 1996 poll showed that a slim majority of
adults favored SSM. Support appears to be
leading that in the U.S. by almost a decade. A 2003 poll by the Centre for Research and Information on Canada
showed strong support for SSM among young to middle-aged adults.
Their first question was: "Do you
support or oppose gay marriages?" Results were:
|Males 18 to 34
|Males 35 to 54
|Females 18 to 34
|Females 35 to 54
The poll was taken before the
Ontario Court of Appeal ordered the Government of Ontario to
start registering same-sex marriages on 2003-JUN-10. Since then, SSM
ceremonies have become common, and the public appears to have taken them in
stride. One indication of lack of concern by the public is that few negative letters about SSM
have been sent to editors of Canada's larger newspapers.
Much of the absence of opposition to SSM is traceable to the religious makeup
of Canada. The percentage of Fundamentalists and other Evangelical denominations
is only about 8% in Canada, compared with about 35% in the U.S. The largest Protestant church in the country is the United Church
of Canada. Their theology and other beliefs are rather liberal and are similar to those of the United Church
of Christ in the U.S. Both have allowed gays and lesbians to be ordained. The
United Church of Canada has a ritual for celebrating the union or
marriage of gay or lesbian couples.
After the federal law was passed during 2005-AUG, the only jurisdiction in Canada
that refused to marry same-sex couples was tiny Prince Edward Island. SSM was
theoretically legal there, but the government refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples
until after the legislature passed enabling legislation. They capitulated after
a lesbian couple threatened to sue the province.
As of mid 2008, same-sex marriage has been generally accepted by the public.
The topic rarely, if ever, appears in newspaper letters to the editor.
Conservative Christian websites and news services in Canada still object to
There appears to be no substantial effort being mounted to roll back the
clock on marriage law. However, if the current federal Conservative government
obtains a majority in a future election, this could change overnight.
M. Eichler, "Family Shifts -- Families, Policies,
and Gender Equality" Oxford University Press, (1997) at Page 3.
John Cotter, "Alberta to Give Same-Sex Couples Similar Rights as
Married Couples," Canadian Press, 2002-MAY-7.
B. Cossman & B. Ryder, "Gay, Lesbian and Unmarried
Heterosexual Couples and the Family Law Act: Accommodating a Diversity of
Family Forms," Ontario Law Reform Commission, Toronto, (1993) at
Pages 3 & 5.
"British Columbia court allows same-sex marriage," MSNBC News,
"Population 5 years and over by mobility status, provinces and
territories (2001 Census)," Statistics Canada, 2004-APR-25, at:
J. Scott Matthews, "The political foundations of support for same-sex
marriage in Canada," at:
http://www.cpsa-acsp.ca/ You may need software to read this PDF file. It can be obtained free from:
Tom Axworthy, "Rights essential to our heritage," The Toronto
Star, 2005-FEB-22, Page A20.
"Human Rights and Canada: Building the Foundation," Multicultural
History Society of Ontario, at:
"John Humphrey Centre," at:
"The Governor General's Awards in Commemoration of the Persons Case.
The 'Famous Five' and the Persons Case," Status of Women Canada, at:
Shannon Thunderbird, "At the pleasure of the king," at:
"SSM" is an acronym "same-sex marriage"
Copyright Â© 2003 to 2008 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2008-JUN-19
Author: B.A. Robinson