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.
Events related to same-sex marriage in Newfoundland and Labrador:
2003-FALL: Noelle French and Jacqueline Pottle applied for a
marriage license twice and were refused both times. 3
2004-OCT: Theresa Walsh and Lisa Zigler applied for a marriage
license and were refused. 3
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
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.
2004-DEC-19 & 20: The lawsuit was heard before the Supreme
Court of Newfoundland.
2004-DEC-21: Justice Derek Green ordered the province to issue
licenses to the plaintiffs and any other qualified same-sex couples. Some
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."
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."
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."
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
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."
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."
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
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.
2004-DEC-23: Noelle French and Jacqueline Pottle were married by
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
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.
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.