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Debates about SSM in Alberta

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The Province of Alberta is located immediately to the east of British Columbia, Canada's most westerly province. It is north of the state of Montana in the U.S. 1 Alberta and Prince Edward Island (PEI)probably have the largest percentage of conservative Protestants of any province in Canada. These two provinces have demonstrated their low regard for their gay and lesbian citizens on two occasions:

bulletThey were the last ones to declare sexual orientation to be a protected class in their human rights legislation.
bulletBy mid-2005, they were the only provinces where loving, committed same-sex couples could not marry.

By mid-2005, same-sex couples were free to marry in eight of ten provinces of Canada -- British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia, Quebec, and Saskatchewan. Same-sex marriage was not permitted in two territories (Northwest Territory and Nunavut), and in two provinces (Alberta and Prince Edward Island [PEI]). 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.

On 2005-JUL-20, federal bill C-38 was given royal assent. All jurisdictions in Canada were forced to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and to register their subsequent marriages.

Statistics Canada estimates that the 2004 population of Alberta is 3,201,900 persons. This represents very slightly less than 10% of Canada's population. 2

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Events related to same-sex marriage in Alberta:

bullet2003-JUL-17: Poll shows slight majority opposed SSM: Ipsos-Reid released the results of their poll of Albertan adults. They found that:
bullet57% opposed same-sex marriage: 43% strongly; 14% somewhat.
bulletThis is 13 percentage points higher than the national average of 44%
bullet41% supported same-sex marriage: 20% strongly; 21% somewhat.
bullet2% had no opinion or refused to participate.
bulletOlder Albertans at 77% were more likely than middle aged (at 60%) and younger adults (at 41%) to oppose same-sex marriage.
bulletMen, (at 63%) were far more likely than women (at 51%) to oppose SSM. \
bulletThose living in rural areas (at 65%) were more likely to oppose SSM than those in urban areas (at 45%).
bullet58% would support the use of the not withstanding clause to exempt Alberta in the event that the federal government redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. At the time that the poll was taken, most of the public in Alberta were probably unaware that the not withstanding clause cannot be used by a provincial government in a case where they have no jurisdiction.
bulletOn a related matter, 56% of Albertans agreed that "we should be more tolerant of people who choose to live according to their own moral standards even if these are very different from our own" Also, 27% were opposed, 14% were neutral, 3% didn't answer. The percentage who agreed with the statement dropped from 69% in 2002-APR to 56% in 2003-JUL -- a drop of 13 percentage points in a little over a year.

The poll was taken between 2003-JUN-26 and 30 among a randomly selected group of 800 adult Albertans. margin of error = 3.5 percentage point. 12

bullet2004-DEC-09: Notwithstanding clause abandoned: The Supreme Court of Canada ruled on DEC-08 that the federal government has sole jurisdiction in deciding who is eligible to marry in Canada. Alberta Justice Minister Rob Stevens responded to this ruling. He said that if the federal government legalizes SSM, his province would not invoke the notwithstanding clause in order to retain the one-man one woman definition of marriage in Alberta. Premier Ralph Klein had suggested in the past that he would invoke this clause. It is no longer an option. Steven said: "You cannot use the notwithstanding clause relative to a matter that is not within your jurisdiction. Since the court ruled the authority over same-sex marriage falls to the federal government, it is only the federal government who can invoke the notwithstanding clause to maintain the traditional definition of marriage. The court clearly said that provinces could not refuse to issue licenses or register same-sex marriages." He expressed the belief that most Albertans oppose SSM. He said: "There are differing views on this point, but my own sense of it is that in Alberta, as of today, the majority of Albertans are in support of the traditional definition of marriage." His assessment is probably accurate. A poll in 2003-AUG showed that 46% of Canadian adults favor SSM and 46% are opposed. But only 33% of adults in the Prairies favor SSM. Stevens said: "The definition of marriage in this province is the traditional one. And so a same-sex couple that would seek a marriage license today in Alberta would be declined." 6
bullet2004-DEC-10: Referendum: Alberta premier Ralph Klein called for a national referendum on same-sex marriage. In a TV interview he said that he was "thoroughly disappointed" that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the federal government's proposed revisions to the marriage act are constitutional. He also said that "In this province, my feeling is the majority -- and I don't know what the percentage of the majority is -- but the majority of people are opposed to same-sex marriage. And I represent the people of this province.'' A referendum would be an unusual step. Some have been conducted in the past: Newfoundland and Labrador held a referendum in which the public voted to join Canada. The people of Quebec have voted down two referenda on whether to separate from Canada. Klein suggested that: "There is very little legally we can do about it, but there is a lot politically."
bullet2004-DEC-10: Legal challenge: A gay-positive group is planning to challenge the province's marriage act. Spokesperson Murray Billet of Canadians for Equal Marriage in Edmonton said: "The essence of the challenge is going to be discrimination based on sexual orientation. They suggest marriage continues to be between a man and a woman, when the Supreme Court and other jurisdictions have stated very clearly otherwise.''
bullet2004-DEC-12: Prime minister rejects referendum: Prime Minister Paul Martin rejected the concept of a referendum on SSM. He said: "I think that this is an issue that Parliamentarians ought to decide...The courts have now given their direction. I think it's one for Parliament and I think that Parliament ought to accept their responsibility." 6 Even though a sizeable majority of Canadian adults favor SSM, a referendum would almost certainly reject SSM. This is because many of those who reject SSM are very strongly opposed; they would be very likely to vote in a referendum. Many of those who favor SSM are not so highly motivated and thus would be less likely to vote.
bullet2004-DEC-22: Beliefs about SSM: The SSM situation in Alberta seems to be building up a head of steam. Battle lines are being drawn. On one side are social and religious conservatives who strongly advocate retaining "traditional marriage." -- i.e. promoting the continuing restriction of marriage to the union of one man and one woman, and prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying. On the other side are some religious liberals, civil libertarians, and homosexuals who view SSM primarily as a civil rights issue.
bulletPremier Ralph Klein said earlier in December that SSM is morally wrong, His government will not allow them in spite of a decision by the Supreme Court of Canada on DEC-08 which ruled them constitutional, and rulings by many provincial and territorial supreme courts which determined that "traditional marriage" is unconstitutional.
bulletNumerous religious and social conservatives and groups have condemned SSM as a threat to marriage and to the stability of society. They have cited dozens of reasons for these beliefs.
bulletSome gay and lesbian groups maintain that Alberta's opposition to SSM resembles discriminatory laws which were once faced by Jews and non-whites around the world. This comment might have referred to the infamous head tax that the federal government once charged Chinese immigrants in the early 20th century.
bulletJulie Lloyd, a human rights lawyer in the province said: "I have heard the premier of Alberta describe the issue as a moral issue, and I agree. However, the moral issue is not and cannot be homosexuality. The moral issue is discrimination."
bulletMurray Billet, spokesperson for Canadians for Equal Marriage, said that gays and lesbians "...not only expect equality, but we will go after equality and do whatever it is going to take. We will take them to court. The writing is on the wall. Get over it.''
bulletMichael Phair, an Edmonton city councilor who is gay, said: "We are tired of being bullied. It is an outrage, and it is nothing but bias and revenge to force us to go to the courts to get what everyone else has in this country.'' This statement is factually incorrect. About 13% of Canadians live in areas where SSM is currently unavailable; roughly 10% in Alberta and 3% in two maritime provinces.
bulletKris Wells, an educator said: "Mr. Klein's rhetoric gives people the tacit permission that it is OK to discriminate. When these kinds of negative comments are profiled in the media, we know that the rate of victimization against lesbian and gay persons increases.''
bulletHuman rights activist Elizabeth Massiah said that Alberta's gays and lesbians want full equality. She said: "What Ralph is proposing is a version of apartheid. I don't want to live in a province where there is an apartheid or caste-like system of equality.''

Marisa Etmanksi, a spokesperson for the premier said that Klein will meet with a representative of the gay and lesbian community during 2005-JAN. She said: "Premier Klein has agreed to meet with a member of that group. They can get together and discuss issues that are important to both groups." Referring to communications received from the general public, she said: "The overwhelming response has come from people supporting the premier and the government on his stand.''

bullet2005-JAN-15: Bishop condemns SSM: Roman Catholic bishop, Frederick B. Henry of Calgary, Alberta issued a pastoral letter condemning SSM. He told his parishioners that the goal of the homosexual movement is not simply to obtain the various rights and obligations of marriage. It is a "...powerful psychological weapon to change society’s rejection of homosexual activity and lifestyle into gradual, even if reluctant, acceptance." In a remarkable statement, he writes: "Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the State must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good. It is sometimes argued that what we do in the privacy of our home is nobody’s business. While the privacy of the home is undoubtedly sacred, it is not absolute. Furthermore, an evil act remains an evil act whether it is performed in public or in private."  It is unclear exactly what type of government oppression of gays, lesbians and bisexuals he is advocating. He may be in favor of the re-criminalization of all same-sex behavior. We have asked for a clarification from the Diocese of Alberta.

He suggests that same-sex marriage is not an actual marriage because the couple, on their own, cannot procreate. For example, lesbian couples would have to resort to in-vitro fertilization or artificial insemination just as infertile opposite-sex couples must in order to have children. (Both procedures are forbidden by the Roman Catholic church.) "Two individuals of the same sex, regardless of their race, wealth, stature, erudition or fame, will never be able to marry because of an insurmountable biological impossibility." We assume that he is stating that a same-sex couple will never be able to marry in the Roman Catholic Church. Such couples have been marrying by the thousands in civil and in religious ceremonies conducted by liberal faith groups. He urges his parishioners to communicate their rejection of SSM to their members of Parliament. 4,9 More details
bullet2005-MAR-23: Alberta's Marriage Act set to expire but may be renewed: The Marriage Amendment Act, which forms part of the province's Marriage Act, defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It also contains a "notwithstanding" clause that its sponsors believed would retain this definition, even if the Federal Government redefined the federal marriage act to allow same-sex couples to marry in Canada. There are two problems with this amendment:
bulletNotwithstanding clauses have an automatic five-year expiry date that make them null and void after five years. The clause expires during the week of 2005-MAR-20.
bulletThe clause is meaningless, because the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that it is the federal government, not the provinces, who has total jurisdiction over whom may marry in Canada. Alberta has no say in the matter. The federal government could decide to violate the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by restricting marriage to opposite-sex couples by using the notwithstanding clause. However, a province does not have jurisdiction.

A poll commissioned by the Canadian Family Action Coalition and conducted by the Feedback Research Corporation found that 63% of Alberta adults favored renewing the notwithstanding clause for another five years; 30% supported its automatic expiry. Justice Minister Ron Stevens announced that he intended to let the notwithstanding clause expire because, in his estimation, there was a "99.9% chance" it would not survive a court challenge. Premier Ralph Klein endorsed Steven's decision on 2005-MAR-16. However, Klein's caucus disagreed. Klein said in an interview with Canadian Press: "Caucus did not buy that. They bought the political argument that even if it is moot and even if it can't be used, we ought to leave it as it is. That is, to leave it in the legislation and wait and see what the feds do relative to Bill C-38." Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canada Family Action Coalition, told the Calgary Herald that: "It's a victory for the people of Alberta and certainly for those who want marriage to remain the same." 7

bullet2005-APR-04: Conservatives abandon notwithstanding clause: The Government Services Minister, Ty Lund, tabled a report at the conservative caucus. It stated that the federal government, not the provinces, has the exclusive jurisdiction to define who in Canada can marry. If Alberta renewed the expired clause in the Alberta Marriage Act which defines marriage as a union of one man and one woman by using the notwithstanding clause, the government would be needlessly wasting time and money. They would certainly lose any court challenge. The caucus decided to abandon their effort. Ralph Klein, premier of Alberta, told reporters: "I had to put my foot down today. You can't incorporate into a law something that is unlawful, something that simply cannot be enforced." According to Graham Thomson, "The government is now looking at other options. One of them involves getting out of the marriage business altogether. The province would simply stop solemnizing marriages, leaving that up to religious groups. The province would limit itself to issuing licences for civil unions. The marriage ceremony would be the icing on the cake, something not necessary but performed for the benefit of the couple and up to the discretion of a church or temple. It is a worthy idea, one that respects the rights of just about everybody involved in this issue. It's not a new idea, but Klein's MLAs finally seem to be listening. They're facing in the right direction after performing more flips than an Olympic gymnast." 8
bullet2005-JUL-20: First SSM license issued: Keenan Carley and Robert Bradford became the first couple in Alberta, and thus probably the first couple in Canada, to take advantage of the new law. They arrived at a provincial registry office less than an hour after the Act had been given royal assent. They had to wait until the provincial government faxed a memo to all registry offices telling them to go ahead and issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The staff changed the titles "Bride" and "Groom" to "Partner 1" and "Partner 2."  They couple expect to marry in early September. There were probably dozens of other same-sex couples who purchased marriage licenses on that day across Canada, but the others were believed to be in a province or territory where SSM was already available due to a court order. 10

Afterwards, Carley said: "It's wonderful feeling to know that it can finally be official." Bradley added: "It means that when we do have that ceremony, it will be legal, that we will be recognized as a married couple by the province of Alberta and the government of Canada. And that's a great thing." 11

According to CTV.ca:

"Alberta Premier Ralph Klein says it's a sad day for the majority of Albertans who believe in the traditional definition of marriage, but his government must 'obey the law of the land'.''

"Klein says the Alberta government has always believed that gays should be protected against discrimination. But Klein says 'when it comes to marriage, we draw the line'.'" 11

bullet2005-AUG-08: Poll indicates Albertans still opposed to SSM: The Ipsos-Reid North America polling organization, reported  the results of a survey of public opinion in Alberta. They found that a slight majority (56%) of Albertan adults remain opposed to same-sex marriage. 12 This is a reduction from 57% over a two year period, when compared to the results of a poll announced on 2003-JUL-17. 13 Alberta and Prince Edward Island have historically been the provinces whose adults are most opposed to equal rights for their gay and lesbian citizens.

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References used:

  1. The Government of Alberta has an official web site at: http://www.gov.ab.ca/home/index.cfm
  2. "Population, by year, by provinces and territories," Statistics Canada, 2004 estimates. See: http://www.statcan.ca/
  3. John Cotter, "Alberta told to stop 'Gay Bashing'," Canadian Press, 2004-DEC-22, at: http://www.365gay.com/
  4. "Bishop Henry - Pastoral letter to be released January 15-16," Catholic Civil Rights League, 2005-JAN, at: http://www.ccrl.ca/
  5. "Klein urges same-sex marriage referendum," CTV.ca, 2004-DEC-11, at: http://www.ctv.ca/
  6. "Alberta rules out notwithstanding option," CTV.ca, 2004-DEC-10, at: http://www.ctv.ca/
  7. "Alberta MLAs stand up for marriage," Today's Family News, 2005-MAR-23.
  8. Graham Thomson, "Klein's empty promises: reversal on marriage," Edmonton Journal, 2005-APR_05
  9. F.K. Henry, "On Same-Sex Marriage," Diocese of Calgary, 2005-JAN, at: http://www.rcdiocese-calgary.ab.ca/
  10. "Edmonton men first gay couple in Alberta to get marriage license," CBC News, 2005-JUL-21, at: http://www.cbc.ca/
  11. "Gay couples urged to be careful travelling abroad," CTV.ca, at: http://www.ctv.ca/

  12. "Albertans oppose same-sex marriage," Ipsos Reid, 2003-JUL-17, at: http://www.queensu.ca/

  13. "Albertans Continue To Oppose Same Sex Marriage," Ipsos News Center, 2005-AUG-08, at: http://www.ipsos-na.com/

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-JAN-21
Latest update: 2005-AUG-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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