Same-sex marriages (SSM) in Canada
Part 2: 2012 to now: Federal conservatives
then retreat. Census data.
The following essay is a continuation of Part 1
Reactions to the Justice Department's stance:
Evan Wolfson, the president of Freedom to Marry, a marriage equality group located in New York State, believes that the stand taken by the federal government will damage Canada's reputation internationally. He suggests that the government's position may affect a broad range of factors, including child custody, spousal support or asset division for estranged same-sex couples who came to Canada to marry. He said:
"One of the benefits that marriage gives to families is security and clarity. They don’t have to deal with a tangle of uncertainty. If the Canadian government is serious about trying to cast doubt on people’s marriages, it not only insults their dignity and hurts them personally, but it raises all sorts of complex legal and economic questions for everyone who deals with them – employers, businesses, banks, and on and on. ... They returned home with marriage certificates that they got on their wedding day showing everybody they were legally married. They gave them to their employers, their benefits people, and all kinds of other third parties. And Canada participated in that." 2
Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, a gay rights group asked:
"Have thousands of same-sex couples been misled by Canadian officials for nearly eight years?"
Former Prime Minister Paul Martin, whose government legalized same-sex marriages across Canada in 2005, called the Justice Department's position:
"... absolutely ridiculous. ... We validated those marriages and you cannot retroactively invalidate marriages that you validated."
Bob Rae, the Interim leader of the Liberal Party said that the Justice Department's stance is "illogical" and "ludicrous." He said:
"It does not make sense to me. I understand Mr. Harper said he didn’t know about it and he doesn’t see every legal brief that goes before the courts. Of all the people in Canada who could actually make that argument it’s a little hard for him to make the argument because my sense of that government is that he controls everything. ... It’s quite clear that we have enabled and allowed people to come to Canada to marry in Montreal, in Toronto and everywhere in the country. People came from the U.S. and elsewhere and that means very clearly they have the right to marry and have the right to divorce. ... We have to recognize that marriages work or don’t work and when they don’t work we have a process called divorce that is covered by federal legislation." 4
There were 636 comments posted over four days to the article in the Globe and Mail that included Rae's comment. Some were:
- "Stan L:" "It makes little sense, and while he was very careful in his language......there is no way Harper doesn't know about this. I expect that this was an attempt to get same sex marriage made irrelevant through the back door.
Seems that Chretien (love him or hate him) was absolutely right becuase this is yet another issue that they are trying to sneak in the back way rather than confront Canadians about their real intent and agenda."
- "CriticalThinking1:" "Today's (and yesterday's, and the day before's) developments suggest that the Government has deep disrespect and disinterest for so many of the the freedoms that are part of my Canadian identity.
Their action and inaction belies a pathological lack of interest in alternative points of view.
The Government cannot possibly be right about everything!
They act as if they are."
- West Coast Sailor:" "Welcome to the Canadian Bible Belt."
- "fishstix:' "Coup by stealth, Harper style."
- "Robert Lepage:" [Apparently satire] "These are just rogue ministers and lawyers acting of their own accord. Harper is renown to let his caucus be free-willed when it comes to pushing their own agendas. It is a well known fact that Harper not only condones it, but actively encourages his MPs to speak of their own free minds, without any interference from the PMO, to the media.
Naturally, with such a laissez-faire grasp of his MPs' actions, the Honourable Steve Harper had no idea what his MPs were up to."
- "Cons are a problem:" "Either Harper is lying through his teeth, something we have come to expect from ReformerCons, or he was blindsided and/or asleep at the switch which may be a first. Someone will pay either way."
- "F H:" " 'The government is contending in a Toronto court case that non-Canadian gays and lesbians who have been married here since 2004 are only considered married under this country's laws if gay marriage is also recognized in their home country or state.'
By that logic, people who are of different races, religions or castes from other countries wouldn't be allowed to marry here either as it wouldn't be allowed in their home country. Is our government willing to state that as well?"
- "Zeno of Elea:" "If you want to change the marriage laws to require residency, that's fine, but you can't retroactively change the requirements. If there had been residency requirements when these people applied for their marriage license, then the marriages wouldn't have gone ahead, but there was no requirement so people got their licenses and got married. They're married. Deal with it."
- "noahbody2010:" "I don't even agree with gay marriage, but the decision by the Justice Department is just wrong. It's like a carnival game - get people to come pay all this money to win a prize, but the prize is fake." 4
Mayor Gregor Robertson, of Vancouver, BC said:
"The current position of the Justice Department is embarrassing; it's flat-out wrong and needs to change." 3
David Miller, a former mayor of Toronto, ON, said that any suggestion that same-sex marriages in Canada were not valid would embarrass the country internationally and upset the lives of couples who came to Toronto to marry after having been denied in their home countries. He said:
"I was so proud to be the mayor of a city that had the first same-sex marriages [in Canada]. It made a strong statement that everybody is welcome in our country." 3
The next steps for the lesbian couple:
The couple's divorce application will be reviewed by a judge of the Ontario Superior Court during 2012-FEB. The couple's brief states:
"At no time were they advised by either the provincial or federal governments that their marriage was not valid. In addition to the emotional distress caused to the joint applicants, they specifically incurred legal and travel costs associated with a marriage that was promoted by the provincial and federal governments, and which is now being denied. ... [Without a divorce] they cannot move on from this chapter in their lives. It is legally and procedurally unfair for a government to grant the right to marry, to perform such marriages, and then leave the Joint Applicants with absolutely no remedy." 3
To further complicate the situation, even if it is determined that their marriage was legal, lawyer Gaudet said that they would have to establish residency in Canada for at least a one year interval before they would be eligible to file for divorce under federal law. Unfortunately, visitors to Canada are generally restricted to a six-month stay in the country by another federal law. They are thus caught in a "Catch-22" situation.
More reactions from the Canadian public:
During the three days following the posting online of the Globe and Mail article, 2 readers posted over 2,600 comments! Among the first seven were the following six:
- "The Centrist:" "Truly disgraceful. Looks like former PM Chretien was right. The Harper Conservative government is going to take away, little by little, hard fought civil rights.
This is only the first attack in a series of many.
As for this one small decision, there goes tourist dollars, our international reputation, and the civil rights of the same sex couples who have been married."
- "Vlad the inhaler:" "Under a year [after the federal election] and out comes the hidden agenda.
- "Mags1010:" "Shame on the Harper government! I was actually beginning to think the Conservatives had come to terms with equal rights for LGBT people.
What business does Canada have going out of its way to respect the discriminatory marriage statutes of another country? Would we forbid non-religious Israeli citizens from marrying in our country because they're unable to marry in theirs? Would we forbid a woman married in Saudi Arabia from divorcing her husband?
Let those countries deal with their laws, and let us deal with ours. There is absolutely no reason for this nonsense besides a cruel attempt to reintroduce the old bigotries that rendered some of our citizens less Canadian than the rest."
- "Peering Out:" "This government is disgusting. Anybody who supports, defends, or even tolerates a government that deceives, manipulates, and outright lies to the people it is supposed to serve should give their head a shake. Shame on you."
- "Angry West Coast Canuk:" "Trust the Harper Reform Party (aka Tories) to yet again use their sick religious ideology to make Canada look like another backwards nation. Oh wait, we ARE a backwards nation now. Thanks Harper."
- "Puck:" "Now one can see why the Harper government scrubbed [the topic of] gay rights in Canada from the official information provided to immigrants."
The federal government promises to fix the debacle:
Justice Minister Rob Nicholson maintained that there is no way to legally dissolve the marriage that has generated the controversy. But then he contradicted his statement by saying that his department will search for a solution. He said:
"I will be looking at options to clarify the law so that marriages performed in Canada can be undone in Canada." 3
Some civil rights groups have expressed concern that the legality of all same-sex marriages in Canada may be in doubt.
On JAN-12, Prime Minister Harper said:
"We're not going to reopen that particular issue. ... This is a complicated case and the Minister of Justice, I think, has put out a statement clarifying the government's position on that." 3
On JAN-13, Nicholson announced that the Harper government will change federal law to recognize same-sex marriages solemnized in Canada by visitors whose home states, provinces or countries do not allow sam-sex marriages. He said:
"I want to make it very clear that, in our government’s view, these marriages should be valid. We will change the Civil Marriage Act so that any marriages performed in Canada that aren’t recognized in the couple’s home jurisdiction will be recognized in Canada. ... This is a legislative gap left by the Liberal government of the day when the law was changed in 2005. The confusion and pain resulting from this gap is completely unfair to those who are affected." 6
I find this entire fiasco very confusing.
- On the one hand, Prime Minister Harper is well known for keeping a phenominally tight ship. All members of the Cabinet, all Conservative Party Members of Parliament, all senior civil servants are kept on a very tight leash. It is inconceivable to me that a Department of Justice lawyer could deliver such major testimony affecting many thousands of same-sex couples without Harper giving his prior approval for the attack.
- On the other hand, I cannot conceive of a scenario in which he would have found it beneficial to orchestrate this radical attack on same-sex marriages. Many commentators are anticipating future attacks on same-sex marriage, the universal health care system, the abolition of capital punishment, abortion access, etc. Harper is also expected to resist physician assisted suicide if it became possible. He must have known that to attack same-sex marriage in this way would ignite the fears of Canadian voters and lose him votes from moderates in the next election.
It makes no sense. Perhaps there will be further developments that clarify the attack.
2012-SEP: Census data on same-sex marriages and common-law relationships:
Same-sex marriage became available to lesbians, gays and bisexuals in mid-2007.
Statistic Canada reported a near tripling in the number of same-sex married couples between 2006 and 2011:
- In the 2006 census, they counted 7,465 married same-sex couples and 37,885 common law same-sex couples.
- In the 2011 census, they counted 21,015 married same-sex couples and 43,560 common law same-sex couples.
However, just before the data was to be released, Stats Canada recognized a potential error in the data collection. They estimate that they may have over-estimated the number of married same-sex couples by as many as 4,500. Census manager Marc Hamel said:
"We observed that there was a possible over estimation of same-sex families. The counts for some smaller communities seemed too high. It could be related to how some people enumerated themselves. We seem to observe that in more transient communities where we have a lot of temporary workers coming in. So it could be people living together, for example, and reporting each other as married, but not necessarily to each other." 7
"SSM" means "same-sex marriage"
- "Feds: Canadian Marriages of Foreign Same-Sex Couples Aren't Valid," The Mark News, 2012-JAN-15, at: http://www.themarknews.com/
- Kirk Makin, "Despite legal about-face, Harper has ‘no intention’ of reopening gay marriage," The Globe and Mail, 2012-JAN-12, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
- Kirk Makin, "Ottawa moves to defuse same-sex controversy," The Globe and Mail, 2012-JAN-12 & 13, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
- Jane Taber, "Sudden legal stand against same-sex marriage defies logic, Rae says," The Globe and Mail, 2012-JAN-12, at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/
- "Underground Railroad," Wikpedia, as of 2012-JAN-14, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- Thandi Fletcher, "All same-sex marriages declared legal and valid by justice minister Rob Nicholson," National Post, 2012-JAN-13, at: http://news.nationalpost.com/
- "Same-sex snafu: census may have counted roommates as married couples," Canadian Press, 2012-SEP-19, at: http://www.ctvnews.ca/
Copyright 2012 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-SEP-19
Author: B.A. Robinson