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2002-AUG-7: Parliamentary commission created:

Prime minister Jean Chrtien and justice minister Martin Cauchon announced that a parliamentary commission will hold national hearings and study the way in which other jurisdictions are handling the same-sex marriage issue. Simultaneously, the government will continue the appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeals. Chrtien said "It's a social problem which needs attention at this time, and we want to have a committee to consult Canadians and experts." The committee will give the committee a range of options to study. Tim Harpur, Ottawa bureau chief for the Toronto Star speculates that the options could include:

bulletExpanding marriage to include persons of all sexual orientations.
bulletCreating a parallel system of civil unions for gay and lesbian couples which would have the same rights, privileges and obligations as marriage.
bulletHaving the government get out of the marriage business and leaving it as a religious union. Marriage would then have no legal significance.

Some initial reactions to the parliamentary committee:

bulletMichael Leshner, a gay rights activist and crown attorney called the commission idea "pathetic." He said: "Are these people brain-dead? Can they not think for themselves. Can nobody just get up in the House of Commons and make a statement on a fundamental issue of human rights?"
bulletJohn Fisher of EGALE Canada, a gay rights group, supported the commission, but said "Human rights should not be subject to a popularity contest.
bulletGeorge Smitherman, a member of the Ontario legislature, favored the committee, which he regards as a "reasoned and principled discussion of equal recognition of same-sex couples." However, he appears to view equal recognition as a fundamental human rights issue and not a matter for debate.
bulletLiberal member of parliament Dan McTeague said there is no reason for parliament to diverge from its 1999 endorsement of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. 1

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2002-NOV-7: Discussion paper released:

Justice Minister Martin Cauchon released a discussion paper that will be used by the Justice and Human Rights Committee of the House of Commons to guide the consultations. 2 It suggests three options, that:
  1. Marriage would remain an opposite-sex institution -- a union of one man and one woman. Civil union or domestic partnership legislation could then be created. It would provide an alternative path that is equivalent to marriage, except in name. It might be opened only to same-sex couples, or could be made available also to opposite-sex couples who do not wish to be married.  This path may present legal problems, as "both the [recent] Qubec and Ontario [court] decisions suggest that a civil registry may not be enough to meet equality concerns." 3 As in the case of public schools in the American south, separate institutions are inherently not equal. This solution would be certainly challenged in court. The Federal Government could resolve this dilemma by invoking the "Not Withstanding" clause which allows Canadian governments to ignore sections of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- the Canadian constitution for up to five years at a time.
  2. Marriage would be expanded to include same-sex couples. Most existing federal, provincial and territorial laws which give special rights to married couples, would then automatically apply to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples who obtain a marriage license and marry. Some legislation would have to be slightly altered to eliminate references to men and women. By tradition, clergy are not required to marry couples when it would be contrary to the church's religious beliefs. Some change in provincial/territorial laws might be necessary to permit clergy to legally discriminate against couples on the basis of their sexual orientation.
  3. Parliament would cancel its marriage laws, and create a single "registered partner" registry for both same- and opposite-sex couples. Federal divorce laws would apply only to existing marriages. Government benefits, spousal support, child support, etc. would be linked to this registry. Existing marriages would be included in the registry by default. Marriage would be left to religious groups only. It would be a religious ritual, like baptism in churches, and would have no legal significance. This would "...underscore the division of church and state in Canada...." 3 This path would require the cooperation of all of the provinces and territories. It would be difficult to challenge in the courts, but would distress those who believe that marriage should be restricted to between one man and one women, and that marriage should have both religious and government aspects.

There are rumors that Justice Minister Cauchon favors the first, civil union, option. Reuters gave the opinion that the third option is least likely to succeed.

Three items are worth mentioning:
bulletThe desire of religious conservatives to leave marriage untouched and to not have the government recognize same-sex relationships as equivalent to marriage is not an option.
bulletWhatever system Canada ends up with will be applied uniformly across the entire country, in all provinces and territories. If it doesn't, then court challenges would quickly be certain to make it so.
bulletWhatever system(s) are created in Canada, same-sex couples will probably not be able to have their marriages or civil unions recognized in very many jurisdictions outside of the country.

Complete details of this discussion paper are located on the Department of Justice's web site. Its authors have done an excellent job in explaining a delicate and complex matter with clarity and simplicity. 3

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Reaction to the discussion paper:

bulletThe Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, a conservative Christian group, is opposed to both same-sex marriage and civil unions. Bruce Clemenger, their national affairs director, said on 2002-NOV-7: "They're marriage by another name. Recognizing civil unions will not enable the state to properly recognize the important role that marriage plays in society."
bulletGeorge Smitherman, a member of the Ontario legislature said that equal recognition of same-sex relationships must be the starting point. "Equal recognition is not up for debate."
bulletCanada's most conservative party, the Canadian Alliance has traditionally favored the restriction of marriage to opposite-sex couples only. They have not taken a stand on civil unions. Leader Stephen Harper said "Frankly, the courts have no business trying to turn this into a trumped-up human rights issues. This is a decision of the legislature." 4

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Leadership candidates differ:

On 2003-MAR-23, seven candidates for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party debated a number of issues. One was the future of same-sex marriage:

bulletPeter MacKay suggested that same-sex marriage legislation is not a priority and that the nation's homeless problem should be solved first. He later said that he regretted "making that statement. Clearly its a priority when you are talking about people's rights and equality. But this is politics....I think that we should keep a separation between church and state...I don't think we should be telling Catholics they have to perform same-sex marriages." [Editors note: His last comment is difficult to understand. The government has never told any religious groups who they must marry. We have never seen any indication that this will change in the future.] MacKay said that people in a same-sex relationship should receive all of the rights and privileges given to married couples...."but call it something else."
bulletScott Brison said, in response to MacKay's suggestion: "That would be like saying we can't give women the vote until we eliminate unemployment...We have to deal with more than one issue if we're going to be in government." Brison supports the third alternative listed above: to have the government register relationships -- of both same and opposite sex couples. Churches would then decide whom they wished to marry.
bulletCraig Chandler indicated his opposition to government recognition of same-sex committed relationships. He said: "I do believe in [heterosexual] family values." He added that he was a Christian. When Andr Bachand, a Quebec MP, interrupted him to ask him a question, Chandler asked "Are you an anti-Christian?" Bachand responded "I'm a Catholic." 5

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The Justice Committee on tour:

Between 2003-APR-1 and APR-30,  the House of Commons' Justice Committee toured Canada, holding hearings of same-sex marriage in Vancouver, Edmonton, Moose Jaw, Steinbach, MB, Halifax, Sussex NB, Sudbury, Toronto, Montreal and Iqaluit, Nunavut. According to SameSexMarriage.ca, "the Liberal party's Andy Scott has allowed witnesses to denigrate all homosexuals with what M.P. Svend Robinson describes as 'hatred and venom.' This mockery of justice is set to tour the country, but one couple has dropped out and another may change testimony to protest this abusive platform for bigotry." 6

Glen Murray, mayor of Winnipeg MB commented that

"Many of the voices being heard at the public hearings have not reflected the Canadian values that I cherish:"

"To redefine marriage to be more inclusive of homosexuality would [b]ranch out into sexual activity with babies, children of both sexes and with animals...We've had enough of unholy alliances and unholy relationships. The people who are homosexuals have been molested in their childhood and that's what gave them the habit. But they can change. Do the homosexuals every pray?" Rita Curley, St. Ignatius Martyr Council

"Two men buggering and fellating each other cannot beget any progeny out of their aberrant sexual practices. If we dare to change the institution of matrimony and legally corrupt it, we shall see the further corruption of our society as well." Richard Hudon, Association of Christian Families. 7

Federal Justice Minister, Martin Cauchon, said: "I just hope they will table their report pretty soon and when I will [sic] receive the report I will have to come forward with a government position on that side." 8

The commission is expected to issue its report during the week of 2003-JUN-15.

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  1. Tim Harper, "PM seeks debate on same-sex marriages," Toronto Star, 2002-AUG-8, Page A3.
  2. Andrew Chung, "Gay marriage to get hearing; Ottawa could consider legislation as early as this spring," Toronto Star, 2002-NOV-8.
  3. "Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions: A Discussion Paper,"
  4. Randall Palmer, "Canada Eyes Gay Marriage/Civil Union Options," Reuters, 2002-NOV-7, at: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?
  5. Graham Fraser, "Tory leadership candidates split on same-sex unions," Toronto Star, 2003-MAR-24, Page A4.
  6. "Equal Marriage and the Law in Canada," SameSexMarriage.ca, 2003-MAR-31, at: http://www.samesexmarriage.ca/
  7. "...from the desk of Glen Murray, Mayor of Winnipeg," a letter inserted in a mailing from Egale, 2003-APR, 205-176 Gloucester St, Ottawa ON K2P 0A6.
  8. Andrew Chung, "B.C. appeal court lifts ban on gay unions," Toronto Star, 2003-MAY-2.

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Copyright 2002 and 2003 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2003-MAY-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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