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Province of Prince Edward Island

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The Province of Prince Edward Island in Canada is located generally north of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. It is one of the maritime provinces at the eastern seaboard of Canada. Statistics Canada estimates that the 2004 population of the province totals 137,900 persons -- 0.43% of the total population of Canada. 1 On 2005-JUL-07, it became the first political jurisdiction in Canada whose government decided to to expand marriage to include same-sex couples without first having been forced to do so by a court.

PEI and Alberta are generally considered to be the jurisdictions in Canada that are most resistant to the provision of equal rights for gays and lesbians. Both provinces were the last to include sexual orientation in their provincial human rights legislation. PEI and Alberta were also the last provinces to not allow SSM until after bill C-38 was proclaimed on 2005-JUL-20 and SSM became theoretically available across Canada. PEI is consistently conservative: its "universal" health care plan does not pay for the costs of abortions performed in the province. However, the province is forced to pay for abortions performed elsewhere.

For almost a month, the PEI government ignored the civil rights of same-sex couples and refused to sell them marriage licenses. They preferred to ignore the federal law until they had enabling legislation passed, perhaps in early 2006. However, under pressure, they finally capitulated on 2005-AUG-19 and allowed a lesbian couple from California to marry. With that act, SSM became available in all ten provinces and three territories for the first time ever.

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

bullet2004-DEC: According to the Canadian Centre for Cyber Citizenship: "PEI Premier Pat Binns publicly states that his government will wait for federal legislation to be enacted before resolving the issue of same-sex marriage in his province. If the federal government changes the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, Binns indicates his government will comply." 2
bullet2005-JUN-28: Barb Gibson, executive director of AIDS PEI, suggested that the PEI government government legalize SSM right away without waiting for the federal government to change the federal marriage act. She said that the island is three decades behind the rest of the country as far as sexual orientation and gay rights. She said: "It's also sad to think in a province that could actually lead, on this particular issue, that they choose to stand by and wait for the federal government to make the decision. Thereby not having anyone in government make the commitment to these human rights issues." 3
bullet2005-JUL-08: Mildred Dover, the Attorney General of Prince Edward Island announced that the province would be legalizing same-sex marriage. She claimed that the decision was made because the federal government has already done so. [Actually, at the time she said this, bill C-38 which would legalize SSM in PEI and the rest of Canada was being reviewed by the Senate.] According to the Canadian Press, she said: "We have said all along that we would comply if the federal government passed same-sex legislation. They have the power to define marriage. Weíre looking at the possibility of bringing in an omnibus bill that would say something to the effect of wherever the word spouse appears in our legislation, it includes same-sex and heterosexual marriages." 4 She indicated that there are about 50 locations in provincial legislation where references to spouse, marriage, husband, or wife may have to be altered to accommodate same-sex couples. The government may introduce omnibus legislation to change all of the laws at once. She said that a bill could come as soon as the fall of 2005. 5

Comment by ReligiousTolerance.org: This decision by the Attorney General  is a surprising development. PEI is a relatively conservative province in which the majority of citizens are probably opposed to SSM. [We have not seen any public opinion poll data solely related to this province] The number of adults opposed to equal rights for gays, lesbians and bisexuals probably massively outnumbers the number of persons with a minority sexual orientation. The government does not seem to have anything to gain from this decision, and a great deal to lose. One would have expected the provincial government act only until after the proposed bill C-38 became law.
bullet2005-JUL-20: Federal law C-38 was proclaimed, making same-sex marriage legal, in theory, across all the provinces and territories of Canada. This legislation did not make a massive impact across Canada as only P.E.I, Alberta, and two territories did not allow SSM when the law was proclaimed.
bullet2005-JUL-22: Two days after the bill was signed into law, PEI appeared to be the only jurisdiction in Canada where same-sex couples were not able to marry. Mildred Dover, the province's attorney general, said: "We were consulting about whether or not we could just scratch out the words husband and wife, bride and groom, and maybe just put spouse and spouse. We're not even sure what words you'd use." Same-sex couples can apply for a marriage license in PEI, but they won't be able to receive one until the government figures out how to handle two people of the same sex. Dover said: "We'll do it as quickly as we can. We didn't prepare beforehand because, if we had prepared and changed all the wording, then people would say 'Why did you do that when it hadn't passed?' " Apparently, it never occurred to civil servants in the attorney general's office to decide on a course of action before the law was passed by the Senate, so that they would be ready when the need arose.

Jim Culbert wants to apply to be a Justice of the Peace so that he can marry same-sex couples in his tourist facility. He asked: "Why weren't they ready? They knew it was going to come. You can't tell people, 'Oops sorry, you'll have to go over to Nova Scotia or New Brunswick. We're not ready for you'." 6 Apparently, the province could say this to its gay, lesbian, and bisexual citizens.

bullet2005-JUN-25: LifeSiteNews.com reported that:

"Mildred Dover, the province's attorney general, has said that the province will delay issuing certificates to same-sex couples until they have had the opportunity to amend all the state laws pertaining to marriage. That process could take up several months; it is also unclear what would happen if the provincial legislature opposed the amendments. However, despite the province's past reluctance to have anything to do with same-sex 'marriage' Dover insisted that the delay did not indicate that the province was opposing the newly signed federal law."

"The main problem, Dover explained, had to do with the obvious confusion surrounding what language to use in describing a so-called same-sex 'marriage'; marriage certificates have said 'husband' and 'wife' since the inception of Canada as a nation, and before." 7

[In common with many other conservative news sources, LifeSiteNews refers to SSM as "same-sex 'marriage'." The place "marriage" in quotation marks to signify that they don't consider SSM to be a real form of marriage.]

bullet 2005-AUG-19: Dr. Chris Zarow and Constance Majeau are a same-sex couple from California who wanted to get married in PEI during their family reunion. Constance was born in Montreal, QC but had strong family ties to Prince Edward Island. Aided by some low-key pressure by gay-positive agencies, the couple's campaign was successful. The province had initially refused to accept their application for a marriage license. However, after they called the Premier's office, the Attorney General's office and the Department of Health, the provincial government reversed its position and granted their application to marry in what was to become the first same-sex marriage in the province. Staff at the Vital Statistics office came in on a holiday Friday to give them their license. They were married that afternoon.

The ceremony was held in the floral garden of the Rainbow Lodge in Vernon Bridge, PE. 9 Rev. Barry King of the P.E.I. Interfaith Ministry conducted the service. He said: "Today we celebrate the beginning of a journey for Connie and Chris. This journey is filled with joy because itís filled with love. Connie and Chris chose this path because they love each other." After prayers and vows were exchanged, he said: "I hereby pronounce you married partners in life."

Chris Zarow said she is pleased that: "From now on any couple can walk into the Vital Statistics office and simply fill out the paperwork as simple as anyone else. No one else will have to fight this battle."

Jim Culbert, owner of the Rainbow Lodge, said: "It was a wonderful experience to have the first gay marriage on Prince Edward Island here...Iíve been fighting for this for quite a while. Itís important that people can have their choices in what they want in life." 10,11

This wedding has a Canada-wide symbolism. For the first time, any couple, opposite-sex or same-sex, can obtain a marriage license anywhere in Canada and have their marriage registered by the province or territory.

bullet2005-NOV-18: LifeSiteNews.com reported that:

"Prince Edward Island's Conservative government is amending the provinceís marriage laws to remove all references to husband and wife in favour of the gender-neutral 'spouse,' to come in line with the new federal law granting same-sex 'marriage'."

"Weíre following the lead of the federal government on this," claimed Health Minister Chester Gillan, according to a CP report. "We didn't have a lot of pressure from the public, actually, but this was necessary. We had to do this. The legislation also proposes to create protections that would exempt clergy from being forced to perform the same-sex 'weddings,' instead allowing non-religiously-affiliated marriage commissioners to perform the duty."

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References used:

  1. "Population, provinces and territories," Statistics Canada, 2003 estimates. See: http://www.statcan.ca/
  2. "A [sic] Provincial and Territorial Position on Same-Sex Marriage. A jurisdiction-by-jurisdiction look at how this issue is playing out across the country," Canadian Centre for Cyber Citizenship, 2005-APR-20, at: http://www.mapleleafweb.com/
  3. "P.E.I. should allow same-sex marriage: AIDS PEI," Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2005-JUN-28 at: http://pei.cbc.ca/
  4. "P.E.I. Pre-Empts Feds: Government Decides to Legalize Gay 'Marriage'," LifeSiteNews, 2005-JUL-08, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  5. "Defending Marriage," The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, at: http://www.evangelicalfellowship.ca/
  6. "P.E.I. at a loss for words over same-sex marriage," CBC News, 2005-JUL-22, at: http://www.cbc.ca/
  7. "Prince Edward Island Delays Issuing Same-Sex 'Marriage' Certificates Citing Language Problems," LifeSiteNews.com, 2005-JUL-25, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  8. Terry Vanderheyden, "P.E.I. Amending Marriage Laws to Replace 'Husband', 'Wife', 'Bride', 'Groom' With Gender-Neutral 'Spouse.' Preparing for same-sex 'marriage'," LifeSiteNews.com, 2005-NOV-18, at: http://www.lifesite.net/
  9. Rainbow Lodge is a bread and breakfast located about 15 minutes east of Charlottetown on PEI. See: http://www.gaypei.com/
  10. Wayne Thibodeau, "Lesbian couple make mark with vows," The Guardian, 2005-AUG-20. Online at: http://www.gaypei.com/
  11. "First same-sex wedding performed on PEI," at: http://www.gaypei.com/

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Copyright © 2005 & 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2005-JUL-09
Latest update: 2006-FEB-16.
Author: B.A. Robinson

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