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
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.
The events leading up to legalization of same-sex marriage in Nova
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.
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
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.
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."
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
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."
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."
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."
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
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.
About ten months later, on 2005-JUL-20, federal bill C-38 was proclaimed,
making SSM available across Canada.
"Gay nuptials legal in Nova Scotia by Friday? Federal &
provincial governments 'must do better'," Equal Marriage for
same-sex couples, 2004-SEP-22, at:
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.
"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: