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Same-sex marriage in Canada:

The Ontario appeal court decision on 2003-JUN-10 legalized same-sex marriages (SSM) in Ontario apparently generated a great deal of tourist business as Canadian and American gay and lesbian committed couples have come to Ontario to get married. Ironically, this happened when tourism was suffering in the Toronto area because of the SARS outbreak. That disease was successfully confined to a few Ontario hospitals, and never escaped into the community. The outbreak was successfully conquered. Canada is now SARS free.

Although SSM became theoretically available across Canada on 2005-JUL-20, there are no guarantees that American insurance companies, hospitals, mortgage lenders, hotels, etc will recognize your marriage.

Marriage for lesbian and gays is a four step process. It is not that different from marriage for heterosexuals, except that finding a person to officiate at the marriage may be more difficult. We will explain the procedure in the province of Ontario. The process in other Canadian jurisdictions is similar:

bulletWho is eligible: Any two persons, of the same or opposite gender, who have reached their 18th birthday can be married, unless they are opposite gender and too closely related. Persons 16 or 17 years of age can marry if they have the consent in writing of both parents. There are no residency requirements, citizenship requirements, or blood tests needed. 1
bulletGetting into the country: About.com has a helpful essay for Americans visiting Canada at: http://gocanada.about.com/ The essay describes documents that you will need to bring with you, and some stuff that you will need to leave behind -- including revolvers, pistols, mace, and pepper spray. You will not be subjected to too many cultural shocks, but there are a few strange things to get used to: one Canadian dollar is worth less than a U.S. dollar; highway speeds are in kilometers per hour, not miles per hour, gas is measured in liters not gallons, etc. Taxes are higher in Canada. There is a federal 7% GST tax on almost everything, including books; that is sometimes referred to as the federal government's contribution to illiteracy. There are also provincial sales taxes on many items; this is 7% in Ontario. A few provinces have a harmonized tax of 15%. These are a little steep compared to U.S. practices. However, we have to pay for universal health care somehow.
bulletObtain a marriage license: This currently costs $110 in Canadian funds in Ontario and similar amounts in other jurisdictions. This is equivalent to about $90 in U.S. funds. Licenses are available from the municipal clerk in most cities, towns and villages. Most accept cash, money order, certified check, VISA, MasterCard, or a Canadian debit card. (U.S. debit cards cannot be used in Canada, and Canadian debit cards cannot generally be used in the U.S.) You will both need to go to the clerk's office and provide valid identification -- A current passport or an original birth certificate, plus one piece of photo ID, like a driver's license. Applicants aged 16 or 17 will need to have parental consent. There are no residency requirements, citizenship requirements or blood tests needed. 1 Americans driving to Ontario would probably find city halls in Sarnia, Toronto, Kingston or Cornwall to be their best bet, depending upon whether they would be approaching Ontario from the west, south or east. Couples flying to Ontario would probably find a Toronto flight most convenient and cheapest. Just about any two heterosexual, homosexual or homosexual adults can now marry, whether they be Ontarians, other Canadians, Americans, and people from other countries. Licenses are valid for three months after the date of issue, and expire after that interval.
bulletGet married: Civil marriages can be performed by a judge or a justice of the peace. Toronto City hall has a facility on the third floor that can be reserved for non-religious weddings. Religious marriages can be conducted a person who has been previously authorized by the Government of Ontario to perform marriage ceremonies. Clergy of the Metropolitan Community Church, some congregations affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association, United Church of Canada, and some Reform Jewish rabbis will perform gay and lesbian marriages. It is doubtful that a clergyperson from other religious group would be willing to officiate at a same-sex marriage.  2
bulletGet your marriage registered: It is only when the Government of Ontario registers your marriage that it becomes official. Normally, the person officiating at the marriage ceremony will file the necessary papers.
bulletDo you want to move permanently to Canada: If you want to emigrate to Canada to live with your spouse: "LEGIT - The Lesbian & Gay Immigration Task Force" at http://www.qrd.org/ may be able up to help you.

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And now the bad news:

Marriage in Ontario, like marriage almost everywhere, is intended to be a permanent union. The only exception we have heard of occurs in some Muslim countries where couples are sometimes married temporarily so that a man can engage in physical contact during the filming of movies or on an extended trip.

In Ontario, marriage is marriage. Both same-sex and opposite-sex couples obtain exactly the same rights, privileges and obligations. One of these is divorce: if you want to end your marriage in Ontario, one spouse will have to reside in the province for at least one year prior to court action to end the marriage. If you want to end your marriage while residing in a U.S. state, you may be out of luck. As of 2005-NOV, only Massachusetts will recognize your marriage and so it is probable that only that state will grant you a divorce.

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Although we believe the above to be accurate, we cannot accept responsibility for any problems that you might experience applying this information. We recommend that you check provincial and territorial laws carefully before investing in a trip to Canada.

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  1. "Marriage licence requirements," Legislative Services, Clerk's division, City of Toronto at: http://www.city.toronto.on.ca/
  2. The Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto has a web site at:  http://www.mcctoronto.com/
  3. The Ontario government's Ministry of Consumer and Business Services has an essay on marriges at: http://www.cbs.gov.on.ca/
  4. "Thinking of getting married in Canada?," Equal Marriage for Same-Sex Couples, 2003-JUN-13, at: http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/

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Copyright © 2003 to 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2005-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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