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Newfoundland and Labrador

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The Province of Newfoundland & Labrador is Canada's most easterly province. It is located to the east of Quebec. It is an Atlantic province located northeast of  Canada's maritime provinces and the state of Maine in the U.S. 1Statistics Canada estimates that the 2003 population of the province is 517,000 persons. 2 During 2004-DEC, it became the eighth political jurisdiction in Canada in which a lawsuit was initiated to expand marriage to include same-sex couples. The plaintiffs consisted of two lesbian couples: Noelle French & Jacqueline Pottle and Theresa Walsh & Lisa Zigler.

The lawsuit was successful, as all of the seven previous ones have been. Justice Derek Green only took a day to hand down his decision. On that day, 2004-DEC-21, about 87% of Canadians lived in a territory or province that permits same-sex marriage (SSM). Among the ten provinces in Canada, only Alberta, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island still refused to allow same-sex couples to marry.

On 2005-JUL-20, federal bill C-38 was proclaimed. This allows SSM in all jurisdictions across Canada.

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Events related to same-sex marriage in Newfoundland and Labrador:

bullet 2003-FALL: Noelle French and Jacqueline Pottle applied for a marriage license twice and were refused both times. 3
bullet 2004-OCT: Theresa Walsh and Lisa Zigler applied for a marriage license and were refused. 3
bullet 2004-NOV-4: Two lesbian couples: Noelle French & Jacqueline Pottle and Theresa Walsh & Lisa Zigler initiated a lawsuit against the federal and provincial governments asking that the province of Newfoundland and Labrador be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and to register their marriages.  The provincial government said that it would not oppose the lawsuit. 3
bullet 2004-DEC-16: SSM lawsuits have been almost routine across Canada in recent months. However, there is a difference in this case. The federal government announced that it would support the two couples in their bid for equality.
bullet 2004-DEC-19 & 20: The lawsuit was heard before the Supreme Court of Newfoundland.
bullet 2004-DEC-21: Justice Derek Green ordered the province to issue licenses to the plaintiffs and any other qualified same-sex couples. Some comments:
bullet Noelle French told reporters afterwards: "We vowed to be married by Christmas. And now it's going to come true....For us, it's just about that next level of commitment – that lifetime commitment that we can now make in front of our family and friends." 4 She also said:  "It means so much for us to be able to marry right here in Newfoundland, rather than having to travel to another province. Now my parents will be able to come to our wedding. I can't tell you how happy that makes me. We're getting married this Thursday, right here in St. John's. We're so honored that Mayor Wells will be performing our ceremony."
bullet Theresa Walsh said: "Marriage signifies societal recognition and affirmation of a relationship between two people who love each other and are committed to each other. I love Lisa and want to be with her for the rest of my life."
bullet Lisa Zigler: "I believe extending the right to legally marry to lesbians and gays is an issue of equality and human rights. This is not an issue that should be subject to a popularity contest. Imagine if we suggested that someone's freedom of religion should be subject to a popularity contest. Canadians wouldn't stand for that."
bullet Sean Foreman, lawyer for the plaintiffs, said: "As is now clear in Canadian law, the judge found that it is unconstitutional to exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage. This finding was supported by the ruling of the Supreme Court of Canada last week, who stated quite clearly that the Charter protects both equality rights and freedom of religion."
bullet Gemma Hickey of the Newfoundland chapter of Canadians for Equal Marriage said: "Civil marriage is a public institution and should be open to all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. Equal marriage furthers Canadian values like inclusion, mutual respect and freedom from political or social prejudice."
bullet Laurie Arron, Director of Advocacy of Egale Canada said: "87% of Canada's population now enjoys full marriage equality. Equal marriage diminishes no one. Canada is being strengthened by the inclusion of these loving, committed couples."
bullet Cicely McWilliam of Canadians for Equal Marriage said: "We hope that very soon all Canadians will have the equal right to marry. Parliament faces a choice. It can extend equal marriage to all Canadians or it can invoke the notwithstanding clause to take away Charter protection from lesbian and gay people. Invoking the notwithstanding clause would be unprecedented for Parliament, and would risk eroding Charter protection for all Canadians. Clearly, that would be out of step with Canadian values." 6
bullet There were no immediate comments from groups who oppose SSM because only the provincial and federal governments took part in the hearing. The provincial government did not oppose the suit; the federal government supported it.
bullet 2004-DEC-23: Noelle French and Jacqueline Pottle were married by Andy Wells, the mayor of St John's, in the city hall. 4 He said: "As a civil marriage commissioner under the laws of the country, I think I have an obligation to perform the ceremony, and that's exactly what I will do." After the marriage ceremony, Jacqueline Pottle said: "I feel just complete satisfaction and contentment and joy. I just feel like everything is just the way it should be right now." Noelle French said she still can't believe they are finally married. "I think it will sink in later. Probably in a few days time, I'll be opening my gifts and I'll say, 'Oh, my God, I'm married -- finally'." 5
bullet 2005-FEB-02: Pastor attempts to appeal Supreme Court ruling: Gordon Young, the evangelical pastor of the First Assembly Church in St. John's NF will ask the Newfoundland Supreme Court of Appeal to allow him to appeal the ruling of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland which legalized SSM in the province. Young said: "We feel that the ruling that came down from the Supreme Court of Newfoundland was flawed. Like the other rulings in the other provinces and the territory, we believe it was pushed through and was flawed." He told the Western Star: "The way I see it at this point in time, the traditional definition of marriage is not discriminatory. My main argument would be that it's not a human rights issue and therefore it should not be changed. If gays and lesbians want somehow to live together, they can have a union but not change the existing marriage law." Young has standing in the case because he had been granted intervener status in the original lawsuit. 7

The case did not proceed.

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

As of the end of 2004, same-sex couples were free to marry in Yukon Territory, and seven of ten provinces of Canada -- British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Same-sex marriage was not permitted at the time in two territories (Northwest Territory and Nunavut) Territory, and in three provinces (Alberta, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island). Same-sex couples there are in a legal limbo. The courts have decided that the couples can marry, but the province appear to be refusing them marriage licenses until ordered by a court.

If one assumes that same-sex couples are evenly distributed across Canada, 87.0% of them became able to marry without having to leave their province or territory of residence after the Newfoundland court decision. 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 became able to marry in their own province or territory was probably somewhat higher -- probably about 90%. 2

On 2005-AUG-20, federal law C-38 was proclaimed, making same-sex marriage legal across all the provinces and territories of Canada.

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References used:

  1. The Government of Newfoundland & Labrador has an official web site at:
  2. "Population, provinces and territories," Statistics Canada, 2003 estimates. See:
  3. Derwin Parsons, "Newfoundland Set To Approve Gay Marriage,", 2004-DEC-16, at:
  4. "Newfoundland Court Approves Gay Marriage,", 2004-DEC-21, at:
  5. Derwin Parsons, "Newfoundland Lesbians Wed,", 2004-DEC-24, at:
  6. "News: Newfoundland gets equal marriage!," Egale Canada press release, 2004-DEC-21, at:
  7. "Pastor appeals same-sex decision," CBC News, 2005-FEB-02, at:

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Site navigation:

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

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Copyright 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-JAN-21
Latest update: 2005-NOV-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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