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Same-sex marriage in Canada

Same-sex marriages were legalized in the Canadian province of Ontario on June 10, 2003. A federal bill to extend that right in all provinces and territories is pending.

On June 10, 2003, the Ontario Court of Appeal confirmed that current Canadian law on marriage violated the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in being restricted to heterosexual couples. The court did not allow the province any grace time to bring its laws in line with the ruling, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize same-sex marriage. Consequently, the City of Toronto announced that the city clerk would begin issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples. The next day, the Ontario attorney general announced that his government would comply with the ruling.[1] (http://www.globeandmail.ca/servlet/story/RTGAM.20030610.wrule0610/BNStory/Front/)

Unlike the Netherlands, a couple need not reside in Ontario or be Canadian citizens in order to be granted a marriage licence there. (However, one must be an Ontario resident for a year in order to divorce.) For this reason, many same-sex couples from the US and other countries have come to Canada to marry. (See Same-sex marriage in the United States.)

Civil status is of provincial jurisdiction in Canada. However, the definition of marriage is a federal law. On June 17, 2003, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announced that the government would not appeal the Ontario ruling; instead, his government would introduce legislation to recognize same-sex marriage but protect the rights of churches to decide which marriages they would solemnize. The premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, had indicated that his province would use the notwithstanding clause to prevent gay marriages from being celebrated there.

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Civil unions

The provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia currently recognize civil unions (q.v.)

Common-law marriage

In 1999, homosexual couples in Canada were ruled to have the same rights to common-law marriage as heterosexual couples, in the Supreme Court of Canada's decision in M. v. H. [1999] 2 S.C.R. 3. However this decision stopped short of giving them the right to undertake same-sex civil marriages. Common-law relationships are not marriage. Married couples have additional responsibilities to each other - for example, during divorce the accumulated wealth is split 50/50. This is not necessarily so in common-law relationships.


Provincial appellate court decisions in Ontario (July 12, 2002), Quebec (September 6, 2002), and British Columbia (May 1, 2003) had required the federal government to implement full same-sex marriage within the next two years. The Federal Liberal government had sought leave to appeal the constitutionality of these rulings to the Supreme Court of Canada, though as above the government in June 2003 indicated that they would stop appealing.

The Canadian House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights undertook to study same-sex marriage, including a cross-country series of public hearings, during the first part of 2003. Just after the Ontario court decision, they voted to recommend that the federal government not appeal the ruling.

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