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Same-sex marriages in Canada

Timeline of GLBT rights in Canada
from year 2000 until mid-2005:

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This topic is continued here from the previous essay

Important milestones in lesbian/gay/bisexual rights in Canada:

bullet 2000: The Federal government passed omnibus bill C23 which amended 68 federal statutes to extend full benefits and obligations to persons in same-sex relationships. One significant exclusion was their right to marry.
bullet 2000: The government of Alberta passed Bill 202 which states that the province will use the notwithstanding clause to refuse marriage to same-sex couples in the event a court decides in favor of SSM. The bill is meaningless, because only the federal government, not the provincial and territorial governments, defines who may marry. However, it probably made a large percentage of the voters in Alberta happy.
bullet 2000-DEC-20: A long-term running battle between the Little Sisters Book & Art Emporium in Vancouver, BC, and Canada Customs came to a sudden end. For years, Customs had confiscated erotic and informational GLBT literature at the border while allowing erotic heterosexual material to be imported into Canada. The Supreme Court of Canada declared the enabling law under which Customs operated to be unconstitutional. 1

2001-JAN-14: Two same-sex couples were married in a church service in Toronto. Kevin Bourassa & Joe Varnell, and Anne & Elaine Vautour could not obtain marriage licenses from the Province of Ontario. Thus, they had gone through through the ancient ritual of the reading of the banns. Their upcoming marriages had been previously announced in church on three consecutive Sundays. This can be done instead of purchasing a marriage license. After they were married, the Ontario government refused to register their marriages. However, two and a half years later, on 2003-JUN-10, the Ontario Court of Appeal retroactively recognized the marriages, thus making Kevin and Joe the first same-sex couples in the world -- at least in recent centuries -- to be have been legally married!

The certificate of marriage for the first gay marriage
solemnized in modern times was Ontario License, #M555228.

Three months later, the first same-sex couple in the world to go through the normal procedure of obtaining a marriage license, subsequently marrying, and then registering their marriage were living in the Netherlands.

bullet 2002: Marc Hall won a lawsuit against Monsignor John Pereyma Catholic High School in Oshawa, ON. The school had prohibited him from bringing his boyfriend to the school dance.
bullet 2002: The Ontario Superior Court ruled unanimously that restricting marriage to one man and one woman is unconstitutional. The court gave the Ontario and Federal governments 24 months to change their legislation to allow same-sex couples to marry. The Ontario government decided against appealing the ruling. The federal government released a public opinion poll indicating that most Canadian adults favor allowing the marriage of same-sex couples. Three days later, the federal government started the process of appealing the ruling to the Ontario Court of Appeals.
bullet 2002: In November, an Ekos poll found that 45% of Canadians favored SSM.
bullet 2003-JUN-10: The Ontario Court of Appeal unanimously ordered the Ontario government to issue marriage licenses to same-sex adult couples and to recognize the two earlier marriages , and to register their marriages. Michael Stark and Michael Leshner made North American history by being the first same-sex couple in that area of the world to obtain a marriage license. They were married a few hours later. This court ruling also recognized earlier marriages performed after the reading of the banns. More details.
bullet 2003-JUN-17: The Federal Government threw in the towel. They felt that they had to recognize the unanimous decisions of three senior provincial courts legalizing SSM. At a caucus meeting, the Liberal party decided to not appeal the decisions of the Ontario and British Columbia appeal courts to the Supreme Court of Canada. Rather, it decided to introduce legislation to Parliament which will legalize same-sex marriage across the country. More details.
bullet 2003-JUL-08: The British Columbia Court of Appeal unanimously ordered the British Columbia government to immediately sell marriage licenses to same-sex adult couples, and to register their marriages.
bullet 2003-AUG-14: The United Church of Canada voted overwhelmingly to endorse SSM at their general council meeting in Wolfville, NS.
bullet 2003-SEP-09: A gay-positive group initiated a class-action suit against the federal government on behalf of same-sex couples who were denied Canada Pension Plan benefits when one partner died before 1998. They won the case.
bullet 2003-SEP-16: A motion by the conservative Alliance Party in Parliament was defeated. It would have declared that marriage in Canada was restricted to a union of one man and one woman. It would have required Parliament to invoke the notwithstanding clause. That would have over-ridden the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and deprive same-sex couples of the right to marry.
bullet 2003-SEP-17: Bill C-250 was passed. It added sexual orientation to the existing list of four protected classes in Canada's hate propaganda legislation. Hate speech against persons on the basis of their sexual orientation is now a criminal offense. Exceptions are made in the law for religious hate speech. All Canadians are protected by the law: heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals.
bullet 2004-JUN: A lesbian couple filed the first same-sex divorce petition after their one-year-old marriage broke down.
bullet 2004-DEC-08: The Supreme Court of Canada handed down a 19 page ruling on the Federal Government's "Proposal for an Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes." -- commonly referred to as its "reference." It involved four questions concerning same-sex marriage. The court's decisions were unanimous. It determined that the Federal Government has the sole right to determine who may marry in Canada, that the proposed federal SSM legislation was constitutional, and that churches and other religious institutions can freely discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to marry them for any reason. Unfortunately, it refused to rule on whether the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms requires SSM. More details
bullet 2005-FEB-01: Bill C-38, which would make SSM available across Canada, was introduced to parliament. More details.
bullet 2005-MAY-04: The House of Commons voted in favor of C-38 at the second reading stage -- approval in principle -- by a vote of 163 to 138. More details.
bullet 2005-MAY-09: The governing body of the Anglican Church of Canada decided to delay its decision on SSM until 2007.
bullet 2005-JUN-28:The House passed the bill by a vote of 158 to 133. More details.
bullet 2005-JUL-19: The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 47 to 21 with three abstentions.

star 2005-JUL-20: Bill C-38, which theoretically made same-sex marriages available across Canada was signed into law by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Normally, this action is taken by the Governor General. However, she was incapacitated by a medical problem. Same-sex couples anywhere in Canada could theoretically be married.

A decade later, minus 24 days, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges. It legalized gay marriage everywhere in the U.S. except for Territory of American Samoa. Most people in that territory are considered American residents, not American citizens. Thus, the High Court rulings do not neccesarily apply there.

bullet 2005-JUL-22: The Prince Edward Island government decided to not make marriage licenses available to its same-sex couples, in violation of federal law. Alone among the provinces and territories, they decided that they first had to pass enabling legislation.

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"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"

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Notes and references:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Little Sisters v Canada Customs," Egale Canada, 2008, at:
  2. Christine Overall, "Trudeau Was Right. State Should Stay Out Of Nation's Bedrooms," Kingston Whig Standard, Kingston ON, 2004-JUN-28, at:
  3. "Sexual Orientation and the Canadian Human Rights Act," Canadian Human Rights Commission, at:
  4. "Vriend & Ors v Alberta & Ors [1998] ICHRL 57 (2 April 1998)," Interights Commonwealth Human Rights Law, at:
  5. "Same Sex Rights: Canada Timeline," CBC, 2005-JUN-29, at:
  6. Wendy Pearson, "Interrogating the Epistemology of the Bedroom: Same-Sex Marriage and Sexual Citizenship in Canada," Discourse 26.3 (2004), Pages 136 to 165, at:

Copyright 2003 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2016-NOV-22
Author: B.A. Robinson

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