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Province of Nova Scotia

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The Province of Nova Scotia in Canada is located generally south east of New Brunswick and to the east of the state of Maine. 1Statistics Canada estimates that the 2003 population of the province is 936,000 persons. 2 On 2004-SEP-24, it became the sixth political jurisdiction in Canada to expand marriage to include same-sex couples. The province did not do this willingly; it was ordered to do so by the courts. With that development, plus similar court orders across Canada, over 90% of same-sex couples in Canada were then able marry without leaving their province.

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

bullet 1999: Nova Scotia was one of the first provinces in Canada to partially recognize and accommodate same-sex couples. The government created a domestic partner registry that gave such couples the same legal status as opposite-sex couples in areas of pension, wills, etc. Some same-sex couples decided to not join the registry. They were holding out for marriage and felt that a domestic partnership would make them feel like second-class citizens.
bullet 2004-JUL-15: Sean Foreman, chairperson of the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project (NSRAP), issued a news release. Referring to the Yukon decision, he stated: "We are now considering a change in strategy, to proceed with a similar application in Nova Scotia in the near future, rather than wait for the Reference." He said that the court challenge is likely to go ahead unless Nova Scotia judges "do the honorable thing," He sent a letter to the Nova Scotia and federal Attorneys General, asking "...that the Province of Nova Scotia immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples." It was not successful. 3
bullet 2004-AUG-13: Three same-sex couples, with the support NSRAP, launched a lawsuit against the province to seek the right to marry. They were Brian Mombourquette & Ross Boutilier; Kim Vance & Samantha Meehan; and Ron & Brian Garnett-Doucette. Nova Scotia Premier John Hamm announced that "Nova Scotia has refused to proactively begin issuing [marriage] licenses." But he announced that the province would not oppose the lawsuit.  Brian stated: "Both of us have constantly and consistently stood up and said that we are a couple and we want to have what we deserve as a couple. Our colleagues have respected us, and our friends have come to love and care for us as we are, and our family is just so accepting, and our church is where we draw our strength." 4 The Garnett-Douchettes attend the Safe Harbour Metropolitan Community Church.
bullet 2004-SEP-18: Two days after the Manitoba court decision which legalized same-sex marriage (SSM) in that province, and six days before it was legalized in Nova Scotia, the Toronto Star newspaper published an editorial stating that: "Gays and lesbians have had to turn repeatedly to the courts to eke out equality rights because politicians have not had the courage to address them ... But forcing a same-sex couple to ask a court to strike down a law the government has already agreed is unconstitutional shows just how unwilling many politicians are to fight for their gay and lesbian constituents. Like many previous cases on gay and lesbian rights, it also placed onerous costs and unnecessary emotional strain on the couple and is an affront to their human dignity ... legislators must take greater responsibility for the rights and well-being of all their constituents, no matter who they are. Just like other Canadians, gays and lesbians hold jobs, own property, raise children, get old, love, and are loved. Their rights are a matter of fundamental human dignity and politicians must do better." 5
bullet 2004-SEP-24: 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."

The couples were supported by many friends, including lawyer Sean Foreman, the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, and Safe Harbour Metropolitan Community Church. 3 Ron and Bryan Garnett-Doucette, became the first same-sex couple to obtain a marriage license in the province. Just hours after the court decision was handed down, they went to purchase a marriage license application in a storefront office in Halifax, "under the glare of TV cameras and cheers of encouragement from a gaggle of friends, gay activists and lawyers." 6 Ron said: "We feel really, really good. It's a great day to be a Nova Scotian." Both spouses had grown up in Nova Scotia. Ron was 21 when he first met Bryan. He later told the court that it was "love at first sight." They moved in together a few months later, and have been together since. A clerk explained to the engaged couple that marriage licenses cannot be executed on the same day, "in case you change your mind." Bryan chuckled: "I don't think that's going to happen. Not after twenty years." 6

Some reactions:
bullet Halifax advocate Jay Thordarson said: "Nova Scotia has always been known for its conservative rant amongst the rest of the country.  After all, the province still does not have Sunday shopping and continues to battle politically about this issue.  However, this is a clear indication that human rights take priority within this province."
bullet Darrell Dexter, a New Democratic Party (Socialist) party head and Leader of the Opposition in the Nova Scotia legislature issued a statement saying, in part: "The law in Nova Scotia is now clear on this aspect of human rights... every individual should have equal treatment and equal access to marriage."
bullet Most Rev. Terrence Prendergast, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Halifax and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Yarmouth stated in a news release that marriage is a natural institution that precedes all social, legal and religious systems: "We must recognize this decision as the end of state support for marriage as we have always known it. The civil institution of marriage is now a registered domestic partnership system for adults in a co-dependent relationships....Today we recognize that the full burden for the social and cultural support of marriage in Canadian society must be accepted by religious communities." 7

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

As of the end of 2004-SEP, same-sex couples are free to marry in Yukon Territory, and half of the provinces of Canada -- British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Quebec. That leaves two territories and five 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, 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, 82.3% of them could marry after 2004-SEP-24 without having to leave their province or territory of residence. In fact, many gays and lesbians gravitate towards the larger cities like Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver where same-sex marriage is already allowed. So the actual percentage of gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in committed same-sex relationships who were then able to marry in their own province or territory is probably somewhat higher. 1

About ten months later, on 2005-JUL-20, federal bill C-38 was proclaimed, making SSM available across Canada.

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References used:

  1. "North American continent," World Atlas, at"
  2. "Population, provinces and territories," Statistics Canada, 2003 estimates. See:
  3. "Gays Target Nova Scotia as Next Spot to Enforce Court Redefinition of Marriage," LifeSite, 2004-AUG-16, at:
  4. "And Nova Scotia makes six," Equal Marriage for Same-sex Couples, 2004-SEP-24, at:
  5. "Gay nuptials legal in Nova Scotia by Friday? Federal & provincial governments 'must do better'," Equal Marriage for same-sex couples, 2004-SEP-22, at:
  6. Kelly Toughill, "N.S. backs same-sex marriages. Sixth [sic] province to make unions legal. 'It's a great day to be a Nova Scotian'," The Toronto Star, 2004-SEP-25, Page A8.
  7. "Archbishop comments on Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage in the province of Nova Scotia," Press Release, Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Halifax, 2004-SEP-24, at:

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Copyright 2004 & 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2004-SEP-25
Latest update: 2005-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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