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Same-sex marriages (SSM) in Canada

A brief list of major events. Current status.

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Brief list of major events:

We use the acronym "SSM" to mean "Same Sex Marriage." This saves wear and tear on your eyeballs and our fingers.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, the provincial governments of Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec recognized same-sex relationships and granted restricted rights to gays and lesbians, that were nearly equivalent to those enjoyed by heterosexual common-law couples. But they were not called marriages.

Since the turn of the millennium, developments have been swift:


2001-JAN-14: At this time, same-sex couples could not purchase marriage licenses from their province or territory. However, in much of Canada, there is a second path that leads to marriage. A minister, pastor, priest or other member of the clergy can perform a "reading of the banns" for three consecutive weeks announcing an upcoming marriage. This makes a couple eligible to be married in the congregation on the following week, without first having obtained a marriage license.

The banns were read in this way for two same-sex couples at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. They were:

  • Kevin Bourassa to Joe Varnell, and

  • Elaine Vautour to Anne Vautour.

Of course, when the pastor, Rev. Brent Hawkes. attempted to register their marriages, the government office refused. Thus the two marriages initially remained recognized only by the church in which it was performed. However, during 2005-JUL, when same-sex marriages became legal across Canada, these two marriages were retroatively recognized.


2003-JUN-10: The definition of marriage in Ontario was widened by a decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal. They ruled unanimously that same-sex couples of a suitable age can marry. SSM had finally achieved a foothold in one Canadian province. Ontario became the first political jurisdiction in North America to allow SSM. [Massachusetts was the second on 2004-MAY-17.] Two gays, Michael Stark and Michael Leshner anticipated the court ruling and had arranged in advance to obtain a marriage license, to have the usual waiting period waived, and be married almost immediately in Toronto City Hall. Both men had played a major role in the court case. 6 Leaving the building, they and a few other newly married same-sex couples were met by demonstrators, including busloads of Americans with children, who vented their hostility and anger on the happy newlyweds.

As part of their ruling, the court also legalized same-sex marriages in Ontario that had been previously solemnized by a reading of the banns. And so the two same-sex couples who had been married at the Metropolitan Community Church in 2001 were "grandfathered," and declared to have been married retroactively to 2001. They are believed to have been the first same-sex couple to be married in the entire world during recent history. This was a few months before the Netherlands -- the first full country to legalize SSM -- started to marry same-sex couples.

bullet 2003-JUL: The province of British Columbia followed suit.

bullet 2003-AUG: The deputy Prime Minister, John Manley, commented to the media that the Quebec government will soon start to register SSMs. 1 He was wrong.

bullet 2003-JUL: The federal government submitted draft legislation in the form of a "reference" to the Supreme Court of Canada  which would redefine marriage to include same-sex couples. During late 2004, the Court is ruled that the proposed laws were constitutional .

bullet 2003-DEC: Prime Minister Paul Martin asked the Supreme Court whether the addition of a Vermont-style civil union structure to the marriage act would be good enough to make it constitutional.

bullet 2004-MAR: The Quebec Court of Appeal ruled that same-sex marriages are legal in the province. SSM became available to about 80% of Canada's population without the spouses having to leave their province of residency.

bullet 2004-JUL: Against the wishes of the federal Attorney General, the Yukon Supreme Court ordered the territory to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and register their subsequent marriages.  Yukon is a territory of Canada, north of the province of British Columbia.

bullet 2004-SEP-14: Justice Ruth Mesbur of the Ontario Superior Court issued the first divorce to a married same-sex couple in Canada. Theirs may have been the first divorce by a same-sex couple in the world.

bullet 2004-SEP-16: A court in Manitoba authorized same-sex marriages in the province.

bullet 2004-SEP-24:  A court in Nova Scotia authorized same-sex marriages in the province.

bullet 2004-OCT-06 & 07: The Supreme Court of Canada conducted hearings lasting a day and a half on the federal government's SSM reference.

bullet 2004-OCT: Two same-sex couples were raising money to launch a SSM lawsuit in New Brunswick. A lesbian couple launched a similar lawsuit in Saskatchewan.

bullet 2004-NOV: A court in Saskatchewan authorized same-sex marriages in the province. Among the ten provinces in Canada, only Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island still refused to allow same-sex couples to marry. Two same-sex couples had launched a lawsuit in Newfoundland.

bullet 2004-NOV-19: Justice Ruth Mesbur of the Ontario Superior Court handed down her ruling in the SEP-14 same-sex divorce case. She determined that the federal Divorce Act was unconstitutional. In effect, rewrote the law by declaring that "spouse" is to be replaced by the phrase "two persons" married to each other. This ruling applies to a federal statute, passed by Parliament." It therefore redefined the word "spouse" across Canada. Few people noticed.

bullet 2004-NOV-26: Many gays and lesbian widows and widowers were retroactively granted survivor pensions from Canada Pension Plan (CPP).

bullet 2004-DEC-08: The Supreme Court of Canada released its ruling on the Federal Government's reference questions. They advised that the only the federal government has the right to define who can marry, that the government's proposed legislation including SSM would be constitutional if it became law, and that clergy can legally continue to discriminate in selecting which engaged couples they will not marry. The court sidestepped a ruling on whether the constitution actually requires SSM, thus guaranteeing a much higher level of debate in the country.

bullet 2004-DEC-21: A court in Newfoundland/Labrador ruled that the province must begin to marry same-sex couples.

bullet 2005-FEB-01: The Federal Government introduced Bill C-38 to make SSM available across Canada. The bill involved a simple statement that marriage is a union between "two persons." It also makes minor amendments to eight other existing federal laws. By this time, Justices of the highest courts in British Columbia, Ontario and Québec had unanimously ruled that SSM is required by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. By not appealing the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada, those rulings have become binding on the federal government. Still, a sizeable minority of Members of Parliament were expected to violate their oath of office -- which requires them to uphold the Constitution -- by voting against the bill.

bullet 2005-FEB-24: The Ontario Legislature easily passed an omnibus bill which made minor modifications to 73 existing provincial laws. This brought them into alignment with the 2003-JUN-10 decision of the Ontario Court of Appeal which legalized same-sex marriage.

bullet 2005-APR-12: A Conservative party amendment to C-38 which would have banned SSM and substituted a system of civil unions for same-sex couples was defeated by a vote of 164 to 132. This was a wider margin than was expected by most commentators. A second-reading vote was expected by mid-April. If C-38 passes, it would be referred to an all-party committee for study.

bullet 2005-MAY-03: The first same-sex wedding of a military couple was celebrated at Airbase Greenwood in Nova Scotia by a United Church of Canada minister from a nearby town. A second same-sex marriage was scheduled for Canadian Forces Base Valcartier in Quebec.

bullet 2005-JUN-23: A court in New Brunswick ruled that the province must marry same-sex couples, effective JUL-04.

bullet 2005-JUN-28: Bill C-38 was passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 158 to 133. It passed to the Senate for consideration.

bullet 2005-JUL-07: The Prince Edward Island's government announced that it would legalize SSM in the province. This was a unique decision, because the territory of Yukon and the eight provinces which currently allow SSM all refused to conduct SSMs until ordered to do so by the courts.

bullet 2005-JUL-19: Bill C-38 was passed by the Senate by a vote of 47 to 21 with three abstentions.

bullet 2005-JUL-20: Bill C-38 was proclaimed on DEC-20  by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Governor General, who usually proclaims legislation, was incapacitated for medical reasons. This law makes same-sex marriages theoretically available in every province and territory of Canada.


2005-AUG: The Prince Edward Island government refused Dr. Chris Zarow and Constance Majeau's request for a marriage license. They were a same-sex couple from California, who wanted to marry during a family reunion in PEI on AUG-19. Faced with a lawsuit, someone in the government had a brilliant flash of insight and figured out how to handle a same-sex couple. Chris Zarow said she was pleased that:

"From now on any [same-sex] 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."

This wedding is symbolic for all of Canada. For the first time, any couple, opposite-sex or same-sex, could obtain a marriage license anywhere in Canada and have their marriage registered by the province or territory. 3,4 More info.


2013-JUN-10: Two gays, Mathieu Chantelois and Marcelo Gormez-Wiuckstern, who were the first same-sex couple in Canada to marry via a marriage certificate, celebrated their 10th anniversary together. By this time, same-sex marriages were available in twelve U.S. states and the District of Columbia as well as in about 14 other countries. SSM was being actively debated in Australia, in England and Wales in the UK, and in Scotland.

In contrast, same-gender sexual activity is still criminalized in 78 countries around the world. In six of those countries -- all predominately Muslim -- such behavior is a crime for which the penalty can be execution.

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Current status of SSM in Canada:

With the capitulation of Prince Edward Island, SSM became available in every province and territory across Canada. They have become routine events.

The country remains divided on SSM. A healthy majority of adults are in favor. Young adults particularly strongly in favor of SSM. Most elderly and religious conservatives remain opposed. Religious liberals, secularists, and NOTAS (religiously not affiliated) are typically strongly in favor.

In 2006-JAN, a new federal government was elected, headed by the Conservative Party of Canada. Their leader, Stephen Harper, had promised to introduce legislation in Parliament as soon as possible which would prevent any additional same-sex couples from marrying. However, polls indicated that the majority of Members of Parliament would reject such a bill. The bill was never filed.

Just before the first same-sex couple was married in 2003, opposition to such marriages was strong in Canada. In 2002, an Ekos poll determined that 47% of Canadian adults opposed SSM. If it came to a vote, the large number of "undecideds" would probably have resulted in a majority vote against SSM. But by 2012, an Ipsos Reid poll determined that only 18% of adults were still strongly opposed to SSM. Opposite-sex couples observed that their own marriages were unaffected by SSM. The only real difference was that a significant number of additional loving, committed couples were able to marry in Canada. SSM had largely become a non-issue in the country.

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References used:

  1. "Thousands rally in de fence of marriage," Today's Family News, Focus on the Family, Canada, 2003-AUG-26.
  2. "Population, provinces and territories," Statistics Canada, 2003 estimates. See:
  3. Wayne Theodora, "Lesbian couple make mark with vows," The Guardian, 2005-AUG-20. Online at:
  4. "First same-sex wedding performed on PEI," at:
  5. Mathieu Chantelois, "Ten years of same-sex marriage in Ontario," The Toronto Star, 2013-JUN-1
  6. "Ontario men wed following court ruling," CBC News, 2003-JUN-13, at:
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Site navigation:
"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"

Home > Reel. info. > Basic > Marriage > SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada > here

Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality> SSM menu > SSM submenu > Canada > here

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Copyright © 1998 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2013-JUN-15
Author: B.A. Robinson

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