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Province of Manitoba

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The Province of Manitoba in Canada is located to the west of Ontario and to the north of the states of North Dakota and Minnesota. 1 Statistics Canada estimates that the population of the province is 1,162,800 persons. 2 It became the fifth political jurisdiction in Canada to expand the definition of marriage to allow same-sex couples to marry.

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The events leading up to legalization of same-sex marriage in Manitoba:

bullet 1974-FEB: Chris Vogel and Rich North became the first same-sex couple in Canada to ask for, and be refused, a marriage license. It happened on a Monday evening in 1974-FEB. Three decades later, Vogel, now 57, and North, 52, are still together. Vogel commented on that event: "The registrar came out and said 'This is a joke, right?'." It wasn't a joke. Vogel said, in a 2004-OCT interview, that they wanted to marry because "we believed if people would look at us realistically, our problems would end...[Back then] "few people could say 'homosexual' without choking [and] we were spoken of as if we were evil." 7 In those days, Canada did not have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the American Psychiatric Association had only recently removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. The couple sued the province of Manitoba but lost. The trial judge relied on the dictionary definition of "marriage" and dismissed their case. They received a legal opinion that an appeal "was hopeless." The local Unitarian church -- now part of the Unitarian Universalist Association -- married them in a religious ceremony. However, their marriage was never recognized by the province. Their parents were uncomfortable at first, but became supportive.
bullet 2004-AUG-26: Three same-sex couples initiate lawsuit: Three same-sex couples challenged the Manitoba marriage law which prevents them from marrying in the province. Gord Mackintosh, the Manitoba Justice Minister said: "We will not oppose what they are seeking....We don't have an interest in opposing legally recognized rights of Canadians.....I think the weight of the decisions across the country have pointed to the conclusion that the current federal law is not in accordance with the Charter, so I am pleased that we're going to have some definitive ruling here in Manitoba." 3 In the past, the federal government had opposed all challenges to existing marriage laws in provincial courts. They had asked that the decisions be deferred until after the Supreme Court of Canada makes a decision on the government's reference. 4
bullet 2004-SEP-16: Court OK's same-sex marriage: As expected, 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." . According to the CanWest News Service, this is the first case where the Federal Government "...has not opposed or asked for an adjournment of a same-sex marriage lawsuit." He wrote: "The cumulative effect and the overwhelming effect of that judicial authority is to the effect that the traditional definition of marriage is no longer constitutionally valid in view of the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms." This brings to five the political jurisdictions in Canada in which "marriage" has been expanded to include same-sex couples. Courts in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Yukon had previously legalized SSM.

The Globe and Mail newspaper reported: "The Manitoba court fell silent for a moment after Judge Yard gave his ruling. 'Then afterward, everybody was kissing and hugging everybody else,' said Patricia Lane, a lawyer for the three couples who opposed the law."

Michelle Ritchot and Stefphany Cholakis became the first same-sex couple to marry in Manitoba. Their marriage took place later in the day. Ritchot said: "It is just so wonderful to be able to marry my beautiful Stefphany." 8

bullet 2004-SEP-18: Two additional same-sex couples marry: A second lesbian couple, Laura Fouhse and Jordan Cantwell, were married on Sept. 18. Cantwell said: "Words cannot express how much this means to us as a family. Now our daughter will grow up knowing that her family is recognized and valued like those of her friends." 8

A third lesbian couple, Laura Fouhse and Jordan Cantwell, who are both United Church of Canada ministers, had started planning for their SEP-18 union ceremony back in 2004-FEB. They received an unexpected wedding gift in the form of a marriage license granted a few hours after the Manitoba marriage act was rewritten by the court. Fouhse said: "I'm extremely pleased that our wedding this weekend will not only be celebrated and witnessed by our friends and family and by God in the sanctity of our church, but it will also be recognized by our government. It just makes the whole event seem so much more complete." 5

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Reactions to the decision:

bullet Jim Uttley, a conservative Protestant writing for the ASSIST News Service, stated: "There is sure to be reaction from churches and Christian organizations to this ruling. It will be interesting to see what kind of response will be given. This past summer, Canada's parliament passed a bill which makes speaking out against homosexuality a criminal offense." Actually, hate speech against persons of any sexual orientation -- heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual -- can be a violation of the hate propaganda laws of Canada. However, such speech is not a criminal offense if:
bullet It is spoken during a private conversation, or
bullet If the person can prove that the statement is true or,
bullet As the law says: if, "in good faith, he expressed or attempted to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject, " or
bullet If the statements were relevant to any subject of public interest, and if, on reasonable grounds, the person believed them to be true. 6
bullet James Weisgerber, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Winnipeg, issued a statement which mentioned that restricting marriage to only opposite-sex couples was "a foundational principle of our society....It is difficult to understand how the unique importance of marriage to both children and society will not be gravely undermined by including in the definition of marriage unions which are not equipped for reproduction." This statement is difficult to understand because the government has always allowed opposite-sex couples to marry who were unable to procreate by reasons of age or infertility. Also, the revised marriage act will allow lesbian couples who have children born via in-vitro fertilization to marry. 5

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The affect of this decision on same-sex marriage in Canada:

As of mid 2004-SEP, same-sex couples were free to marry in Yukon Territory, and the Provinces of British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec. That left two territories and six provinces where same-sex marriage was not yet permitted. Same-sex couples in the Northwest Territory, Nunavut Territory, and the Provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland/Labrador are in a legal limbo. The courts have decided that the couples can marry, but they cannot obtain marriage licenses without initiating a lawsuit.

Assuming that same-sex couples are evenly distributed across Canada, 79.3% of them can marry after 2004-SEP-16 without having to leave their province or territory of residence. In fact, many gays and lesbians gravitate towards the larger cities, so the actual percentage is probably somewhat higher. 1

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References used:

  1. "North American continent," World Atlas, at"
  2. "Population, provinces and territories," Statistics Canada, 2003 estimates. See:
  3. "Manitoba bows to gay nuptials. Court ruling makes old definition of marriage in province unconstitutional," The Globe and Mail, 2004-SEP-17, Page A8. Online at:
  4. "Canadian Justice Minister Refuses Even Barest Minimum Defence of Marriage Laws,", 2004-AUG-18, at:
  5. Michelle Macafee, "Manitoba legalizes same-sex marriages," Canoe, 2003-SEP-16, at:
  6. Jim Uttley, "Manitoba court rules in favor of gay marriage. Province becomes fourth provincial jurisdiction to legalize same-sex marriage," ASSIST News Service, 2004-SEP-16, at:
  7. Tracey Tyler, "Years of living dangerously: Two men recall 1974 marriage as court hears case," Toronto Star, 2003-OCT-6.
  8. Rex Wockner, "Manitoba legalizes same-sex marriage," Bay Windows Online, 2004-SEP-23, at:

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 Home page > Homosexuality > Same-sex marriage > Canada > here

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Copyright 2004 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-SEP-21
Latest update: 2004-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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