MARRIAGES (SSM) IN CANADA
TIME LINE: COURT & GOVERNMENT ACTIONS
1993: Rejection of gay and lesbian marriage:
In 1993, a gay couple brought a lawsuit against the Canadian government. They had been
denied a marriage license in Ottawa, ON. One was Canadian and the other was American.
Their suit did not succeed, and the US citizen was required to leave Canada.
1996-APR: Recognition of same-sex partnerships fails:
A private member's bill was introduced into the Federal Parliament on
1996-APR-26 which would have recognized same-sex partnerships and
guarantee them the same rights as are given to heterosexual married
couples. Historically, private member's bills are almost never passed; this one died
without being voted upon.
1996-MAY: Federal anti-discrimination law:
The ruling Liberal Party had promised for years to amend the Human Rights Act
to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. The party's
reputation was beginning to suffer due to their inaction. In 1996-MAY,
after a free vote of 153 to 76, the House of Commons changed the
act. Two amendments were defeated. One would have exempted schools and
churches; the other would have prevented the act from being used to
promote same-sex benefits or affirmative action based on sexual
orientation. The defeat of the former amendment is unusual; usually religious
institutions are allowed complete freedom to discriminate on the basis of
gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, or on any basis that they feel
is justified by their belief system. The country's two largest Protestant
denominations, the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church of
Canada, supported the act. The law covers only about 1 million employees of the
Federal government and regulated businesses. However, with the exception
of Alberta, Newfoundland, the Northwest Territories and Prince Edward
Island, most provinces had already passed similar legislation. Although
same-sex marriages were not permitted in Canada at that time, this modification of the Human Rights Act is a
major precursor to the full recognition of homosexual relationships in 2005.
1997: British Columbia government recognizes gay civil unions:
The NDP (Socialist) government of the province of British Columbia passed
new spousal benefits laws in 1997-JUL that would expand the definition of
"spouse" to include same-sex couples. Bills 31 and 32 recognize "the
marriage-like relationship between persons of the same gender" in the
Relations Act and the Family Maintenance Enforcement Act. Gay and
lesbian couples received the same
legal status with regards to child custody, maintenance and access as would
"common-law" heterosexual couples.
1997: Gay marriage: Dube & Gambora case:
Martin Dube, a Canadian, and Manuel Gambora, a Mexican, are a gay couple. They
filed a lawsuit seeking the right to have their marriage registered. They were married in Canada in a religious
service on 1997-NOV-4. Gambora has lived in Montreal, Quebec, Canada for the past three
years. Unfortunately, his visitor's visa expired on 1997-NOV-24, and he had to return to
The couple's lawyer, Stephane Gendron, believes that Canada's Charter of Rights and
Freedoms takes precedence over Quebec's Civil Code. The former
bans discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation. The latter
requires married spouses to be of opposite gender. 1
1997 to 2002: Quebec gay marriage: Hendricks & Leboeuf case:
Michael Hendricks, 57, and René Leboeuf, 43, are a gay couple who have been living together for 28 years. In 2001, they
decided to get married. but were refused a license. Their lawyer, Stephane Gendron, immediately filed a request to
challenge the law in the courts. They expected to take their case to the Supreme Court of Canada.
On 2001-NOV-8, hearings began at the Montreal Palais de justice. On
2002-SEP-6, the court ruled that the denial of marriage to same sex couples was
a violation of their fundamental human rights. The court gave the federal
government two years in which to modify the marriage act to allow gays and
lesbians to marry. More details.
1998: Recognition of gay and lesbian partnerships among immigrants:
On 1998-JAN-6, Lucienne Robillard, minister for Citizenship, Immigration and Refugees
issued the results of a study by the Immigration Legislative Review Advisory Group.
It contains 172 recommendations for reform. One would give homosexual partners and
heterosexual common-law couples immigration rights equal to those of heterosexual married
couples. The recommendations were be exposed to review at public meetings which started on
1998-FEB-27. The extension of rights to gay couples is consistent with Canada's recent
policies of extending refugee status to gays and lesbians who have been persecuted in
their country of origin because of their sexual orientation. Canada is a world leader in
1999-JAN: Federal government says it will change laws:
Overview: Canada, like most largely English speaking countries, has an immense
body of law that grants special rights to heterosexuals. These same rights
are denied to homosexuals. Gay and lesbian groups have counted 58 separate
pieces of Federal law that deny gays and lesbians equal human rights. In
1998-DEC, the Foundation for Equal Families
announced that it would sue the government in a class action lawsuit. The
following month, perhaps in response to the threat of a lawsuit, the government announced that it will shortly change 38 laws
to grant all Canadians equal treatment. The Federal government announced
on 1999-JAN-19 that it is planning sweeping changes to dozens of pieces of
legislation in order to correct this inequality.
Details: The law structure of Canada is quite different from that of the U.S.
The country has a Criminal Code that defines law for 10 provinces and
2 territories. It has innumerable statutes that affect every Canadian. In
comparison, most laws in the United States that discriminate against
gays and lesbians is the responsibility of the individual states. As an example, at
the turn of the century, all 50 states had laws on the books that provided
severe jail sentences for homosexual sexual activity. 50 separate
campaigns have had to be mounted to overturn these laws - one in each
state. The process was only finished in 2003. But in Canada, only a single
modification to the Criminal Code at the Federal level was needed to
decriminalize sexual activity between persons of the same gender.
Recent Canadian court decisions have consistently ruled in favor of equal
rights for homosexuals. The government has been required to change many
of its discriminatory statutes. In 1998, the Federal government lost the Rosenberg case in which the Ontario
Court of Appeals declared that the Income Tax Act was
unconstitutional. They ordered the government to change the law so that
widowed same-sex partners could collect survivor benefits. The government
didn't even bother to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. They knew in
advance that they would lose.
The Federal Liberal party had
promised gay and lesbians groups for many years that significant changes
would be made to legislation in order to end the current special
privileges granted to heterosexuals. But no action was ever taken. As in
the U.S., those who are strongly opposed to equality outnumber are well
organized. So, any change in the law would probably cause
the Liberal party to lose a significant number of votes in the following election.
In 1998-DEC, Foundation for Equal Families, a Les/Gay group,
announced that it was initiating an unprecedented action against the
Federal government. It planned to bring a single class action lawsuit on
behalf of all of the homosexuals in Canada, which simultaneously attacked
58 pieces of discriminatory legislation. The government did not directly
respond to the action.
In early 1999-JAN, Immigration Minister Lucienne Robillard announced
that her department would change its regulations to treat same-sex
immigrant couples the same as heterosexual couples. There was "very
little evidence of a backlash" 3 to this decision. The lack of reaction by conservative
groups may have strengthened the resolve of the government to
right an historic wrong. They decided to bring forth
new legislation and make changes to existing regulations in order to treat
same-sex couples in the same way as common-law heterosexual couples. An
unidentified government source said: "The government has to deal
with this sooner or later. It's unavoidable." David Corbett, a
lawyer for the Foundation for Equal Families, said that the group
is willing to drop the court action if the government voluntarily makes
changes under a set time line.
Again, gay marriages in Canada were not legalized as a result of these changes.
However, they are a major step forward towards that goal.
1999-MAY: Majority of public support same-sex marriage:
The Angus Reid Group conducted a public opinion poll among 1,500
Canadian adults, nation-wide. Pollsters asked the question: "Do
you think homosexual couples who wish to marry should or should not
qualify for legal recognition of the marriage?" They found that
53% of Canadians support legal gay and lesbian marriages; 44% oppose them;
3% didn't know or were undecided. The margin of error is 2.5%. Among
women, support was stronger (56% in favor, 41% opposed, 3% undecided). 66%
of the subjects aged 18 to 34 favored equal marriage rights. But only 32%
of those over 54 were supportive.
The pollsters also asked: "Do you think gays and lesbians
should or should not be entitled to spousal benefits?" 63% agreed
that they should receive spousal benefits; 35% were opposed; 2% were
undecided or didn't know. More details
and information on other polls.
1999-JUN - House of Commons states opinion rejecting same-sex marriage:
On 1999-JUN-10, the House of Commons approved a statement of opinion by
a vote of 216 to 55. It states: "That, in the opinion of this
House, it is necessary, in light of public debate around recent court
decisions, to state that marriage is and should remain the union of one
man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, and that Parliament will
take all necessary steps to preserve this definition of marriage in
2000-DEC to now: Ontario
Gay and Lesbian marriages: Vautour & Vautour, Donnelly & McDowall, and Bourassa
& Varnell cases. A long path towards equality:
Gays and lesbians have repeatedly been refused marriage licenses in Ontario.
However, there appeared to be an ambiguity in the province's marriage act which
some lawyers felt might permit SSM. A lesbian couple, Elaine Vautour and Anne
Vautour, and a gay couple Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell attend the Metropolitan Community Church
in Toronto ON. Both couples had their banns read during 2000-DEC and 2001-JAN. The
banns are an ancient religious tradition that bypasses the need for a marriage
In an editorial on 2000-DEC-7, the Toronto Star commented:
"...public attitudes are evolving. Marriage is not the
societal mainstay it once was. Millions of couples choose to live in
common-law relationships. Four out of every 10 legally married couples
end up divorcing....Toronto's Christian gay community has taken a bold
and provocative step. It will make a lot of people uncomfortable. But
this is often how progress begins." 4
The two couples were married on 2001-JAN-14 by senior pastor Rev. Brent
Hawkes. However, the Government of Ontario refused to register the
marriage. The two couples' cases were combined with a second case
involving four other couples into a single court hearing, which started
On 2002-JUL-12, the Ontario Superior Court unanimously ruled that the current
defining marriage is unconstitutional because it denies gays and lesbians "the
autonomy to choose whether they wish to marry. This in turn conveys the
ominous message that they are unworthy of marriage." They
instructed the Ontario and Federal governments to change their marriage laws
to allow gays and lesbians to marry. The court gave the legislatures 24
months to complete the task. The governments appealed the ruling.
On 2003-JUN-10, the Ontario Court of Appeal decided that SSM must be
immediately made available in Ontario. Michel Leshner,
55, and Michael Stark, 45, a gay couple who had been together for over two
decades, were married that afternoon.
Details of the court hearing, the decision, and
reaction to the decision are located elsewhere on this web site.
2001-FEB: Private member's bill introduced:
On St. Valentine's day (FEB-14), MP Sven Robinson introduced a private
member's bill to Parliament that would allow gays and lesbians to enter
into civil marriages. Sven is a member of the New Democratic Party,
a socialist party, and is openly gay. In common with almost all private
member's bills, this one did not proceed.
2001-JUL: Gays can adopt in Nova Scotia:
A lesbian couple successfully petitioned the court in 2000-OCT because
the Nova Scotia government had refused to
grant them the status of parent. According to the Toronto Star: "The
ruling means the children of unmarried common-law couples will now be able
to register their relationships with both parents, inherit under the
Intestate Succession Act and receive maintenance from both parents."
Justice Deborah Gass said in her ruling that families are an essential
part of the democratic society and can't be restricted on the basis of the
orientation. "Prohibiting a joint adoption where all the evidence
indicates these adults are providing optimum care and loving...defeats the
very purpose of the legislation." This ruling means that Nova Scotia
joins Ontario, British Columbia and Alberta in allowing same-sex couples
to adopt. 5
2001-JUL: Couples launch petition in British Columbia:
Eight same-sex couples who were denied marriage licenses launched a petition
to overturn the federal Marriage Act because it allows marriages only between a
man and a woman. The couples' lawyers argued that the Marriage
Act violates gays' and lesbians' right to equal treatment under the Charter
of Rights and Freedoms by denying them official marital status. A
petitioner, Murray Warren, said: "We are less than full citizens and I want
full citizenship." The Supreme Court of British Columbia heard
arguments during 2001-JUL and AUG. More details.
2001-JUL: British Columbia court denies petition:
Justice Ian Pitfield ruled on 2001-OCT-3 that the government does
discriminate against gays and lesbians in marriage. However they are justified
in doing so. He also ruled that courts can only make small changes to laws.
Allowing same-sex marriage would be beyond the court's jurisdiction. The case
was appealed to the British Columbia Court of Appeal. More
2001-DEC: Law commission report:
The Law Commission
of Canada issued a 2001-DEC study titled "Beyond Conjugality: Recognizing
and supporting close personal adult relationships." They concluded that
restrictions on same-sex marriage are discriminatory. They wrote, in part: "The
state's interest in marriage is not connected to the promotion of a particular
conception of appropriate gender roles, nor is it to reserve procreation and the
raising of children to marriage. The state's objectives underlying contemporary
regulation of marriage relate essentially to the facilitation of private
ordering: providing an orderly framework in which people can express their
commitment to each other, receive public recognition and support, and
voluntarily assume a range of legal rights and obligations. As the Supreme Court
of Canada recognized in 1999 (M. v. H.), the capacity to form conjugal
relationships characterized by emotional and economic interdependence has
nothing to do with sexual orientation. If governments are to continue to
maintain an institution called marriage, they cannot do so in a discriminatory
fashion. Accordingly, the Report recommends that Parliament and
provincial/territorial legislatures move toward repealing legislative
restrictions on marriages between persons of the same sex." 6,7
2002-NOV-7: Federal government discussion paper:
The Justice Department has written a discussion paper which suggests three
options for the recognition of same-sex relationships. More
2003-MAY-1: British Columbia Court of Appeal reverses lower court decision:
The Court of Appeal determined that the existing federal marriage act is
discriminatory against gays and lesbians and is unconstitutional. The court gave
the federal government until 2004-JUL-12 to rewrite the act. This means that all
three courts addressing same-sex marriage -- in Quebec, Ontario and British
Columbia -- have unanimously delivered identical rulings in favor of same-sex marriage. More
2003-JUN-10: Ontario Court of Appeal authorizes same-sex marriage:
The Court of Appeal affirmed a lower court ruling and ordered the
Province of Ontario to issue marriage licenses and recognize marriages by gay
and lesbian couples. This is the third political jurisdiction to authorize gay
and lesbian marriages, following the Netherlands and Belgium.
2003-JUN-17: The Federal Government throws in the towel:
The Liberal cabinet decided to accept the inevitable by deciding to rewrite
the marriage act to allow same-sex couples to marry across Canada. They planned
to write a draft version of the changes and submit them to the Supreme Court
of Canada for review.
2003-JUL-8: British Columbia Court of Appeal authorizes same-sex marriage:
The Court ordered the British Columbia government to start issuing marriage
licenses immediately and record marriages of same-sex couples. They felt that it
is improper to allow SSM in Ontario while prohibiting it in British Columbia.
2003-DEC-18: Federal government decides to explore all options:
A new prime minister, Paul Martin, took office on DEC-12. He reaffirmed
on DEC-18 that gays and lesbians who want to marry will not be discriminated
against under new legislation to take effect across all of Canada. But,
before finalizing the draft legislation, the government will ask the Supreme
Court of Canada whether a Vermont-style civil union that would give separate
but equal privileges to gays and lesbians would meet the requirements of
Canada's constitution. 8
2004-JAN-28: Federal government asks new question of the Supreme Court:
The federal government has asked the Supreme Court of Canada a new
question: is the present marriage law which restricts marriage to one man and
one woman constitutional? If not, in what particulars and to what extent is it
The stakes are raised somewhat. If federal legislation is created which
disallows same-sex marriage, there will be thousands of same-sex married
couples by early 2005 who might be adversely affected.
2004-JUL-14: Yukon Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage:
Justice Peter McIntyre of the Yukon Supreme Court issued a ruling that
followed the precedence set by senior courts in British Columbia, Ontario
and Quebec and ordered the territory to issue licenses to same-sex couples
and register their marriages. More details.
2004-AUG:-11 Lawsuit initiated in Nova Scotia:
Two same-sex couples have initiated a lawsuit to force the province to allow
them to marry in the province. A third couple has joined in the lawsuit seeking
to force the province to recognize their existing marriage. They were
married in Toronto, ON, in 2003. Although the outcome of the case is
obvious, the province refused to marry same-sex couples unless forced to by
the courts. More details.
2004-AUG-18: Federal justice minister
throws in the towel:
Justice Minister Irwin Cotler has decided that the federal government will no longer ask the courts to
defer decisions on SSM until after the Supreme Court of Canada issues a ruling in the federal government's
reference. More details.
2004-AUG-26: Lawsuit initiated in Manitoba:
Three same-sex couples have challenged the
Manitoba marriage law which prevents them from marrying in the province.
Gord Mackintosh, the Manitoba Justice Minister has said that they will
not oppose the couples. More details
2004-SEP-16: Court OK's
same-sex marriage in Manitoba:
Justice Douglas Yard of the Court of Queen's
Bench noted that 12 or more other Canadian judges had already decided that
excluding same-sex couples from marriage is a violation of Canada's
Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- the country's constitution. He declared the
marriage act in Manitoba to be unconstitutional and ordered the definition of
marriage to be "reformulated to mean a voluntary union for life of
two persons at the exclusion of all others." This is an all-time
record on a SSM ruling for a court in Canada: three weeks. More details
2004-SEP-24: Court OK's same-sex marriage in Nova Scotia:
Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Heather
Robertson handed down her decision in the morning of SEP-24. She upheld
the marriage of the lesbian couple, Kim Vance and Samantha Meehan. They
had previously registered their relationship in Nova Scotia. They went
to Ontario to marry, and returned to continue living in Nova Scotia.
Justice Robertson declared that "civil marriage between two persons
of the same sex is therefore lawful and valid." More details.
2004-SEP-30: Lawsuit initiated in Saskatchewan:
Two same-sex couples initiated a lawsuit to make SSM available in the
2004-NOV-05: Court OK's same-sex marriage in Saskatchewan:
Madam Justice Donna
Wilson of the Family Law Division of the Court of Queen's
Bench sided with courts in five other provinces and one Canadian
territory. She ruled that existing provincial laws discriminated against
same-sex couples. She wrote: "The common-law definition of marriage
for civil purposes is declared to be 'the lawful union of two persons to
the exclusion of all others'." This was not much of a surprise,
because neither the provincial nor the federal government intervened in the
case. More details.
2004-DEC-21: Court OK's same-sex marriage in Newfoundland / Labrador:
Justice Derek Green of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland took only one day before he declared same-sex marriage
legal in Newfoundland and Labrador. In a unique development, the federal
government supported the plaintiff's lawsuit. One of the two lesbian couples who
initiated the lawsuit, Noelle French and Jacqueline Pottle were married on
DEC-23 by Andy Wells, the mayor of St. John's. More details.
2005-FEB-01: Federal government introduces bill C-38 to make SSM available
By the end of 2004, SSM was available in seven provinces and one
territory, which make up about 87% of the total Canadian population. In FEB-01,
the Federal Government introduced Bill C-38 to make marriage available to every
couple in Canada -- whether same-sex or opposite-sex. The bill defined marriage
as a union between "two persons." It also makes minor amendments to eight
other existing federal laws. Justices of the highest courts in British Columbia,
Ontario and Québec have unanimously ruled that SSM is required by the Charter of Rights and
Freedoms. By not appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada,
those rulings have become binding on the federal government. Still, a
sizeable minority of Members of Parliament are expected to violate their
oath of office -- which requires them to uphold the Constitution -- by
voting against the bill. An amendment to C-38 which would have banned SSM
and given same-sex couples access to a parallel system of civil unions was
defeated on APR-12. Debate on the bill's third and final reading is currently
2005-FEB-24: The Ontario Legislature passes omnibus bill
The Ontario Legislature easily passed an
omnibus bill which made minor modifications to 73 existing provincial laws.
This brings them into alignment with the 2003-JUN-10 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal which legalized same-sex marriage.
2005-MAY-20: Lawsuit launched in Northwest territories
Jason Perrino and Colin Snow have
launched a lawsuit against the government of the Northwest Territories
over their right to marry.
2005-JUN-23: New Brunswick legalizes SSM:
Court of Queen's Bench Justice Judy
Clendenning ruled that SSM must be available in the province. She gave
the government ten days in which to implement administrative changes.
2005-JUN-28: House of Commons passes bill C-38:
The House of Commons passed bill C-38 by a comfortable margin: 158 to 132. It
then proceeded to the Senate, which has remained in session into the summer in
order to deal with the bill.
2005-JUL-19: Bill C-38 passes the Senate:
The bill passed its final vote in the
Senate by a vote of 47 to 21 with three abstentions.
2005-JUL-20: Bill C-38 proclaimed as law:
Bill C-38 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.
2005-JUL-22: Government of Prince Edward Island refuses to allow SSM:
The PEI government concluded that it did could not issue marriage licenses to
same-sex couples until after it passed some enabling legislation. It is alone
among the provinces and territories of Canada. Such legislation is expected
during early 2006.
- "Canada DP Immigration, and Marriage Lawsuit",
- Reference lost
- Erin Anderssen, "Ottawa to enshrine same-sex rights,"
The Globe and Mail, 1999-JAN-20. Pages A1 & A5.
- "Test of marriage is commitment," The Toronto Star,
Toronto ON, 2000-DEC-7, Page A36.
- Alison Auld, "Gays praise N.S. ruling," Toronto Star, 2001-JUL-10.
- "Gay couple rejects proposed Quebec law as alternative to marriage,"
Canoe.ca, 2002-MAR-22, at:
- "Parliament's Judicial Advisors Say Same Sex Marriage Should Be Legal,"
- "Same-sex debate urged: PM seeks study by Supreme Court," The
Toronto Star, 2003-DEC-19, Page A6.
- Valerie Lawton, "Ottawa accused of same-sex delay," The Toronto
Star, 2004-JAN-29, Page A7.
Copyright © 1998 to 2005 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson