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Canada set to embrace gay marriages despite protests
by rpst
Sunday Dec 21st, 2003 9:35 AM
Marriage will soon be a legal option for all gay and lesbian couples across Canada despite the continued opposition of fund amental Christian organisations.
Until recently, gays exchanged vows in “commitment services”, but their union was not legally recognised.
But the impending victory has not been achieved easily, coming at the end of what has been a decade-long struggle for recognition.

Three provinces – Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, which between them represent more than half of Canada’s population – have made same-sex marriages legal.

At least, the federal government has not challenged provincial courts in their recent decisions upholding gay marriage.

The issue is being watched around the world and has been debated heavily in the Canadian parliament.

Indeed, last September the official government opposition party, the very conservative Alliance Party of Canada, introduced a motion to test parliamentary support for gay marriages.

The outcome was a 134-134 deadlock. Four years ago, the matter was easily defeated, with MPs turning their thumbs down on same-sex marriages 216-55.

Now, the Supreme Court of Canada is reviewing the constitutional legality of same-sex marriages and is expected to offer an opinion to the nation some time next spring.

Gay rights activists are, understandably, in an ebullient mood.

“In terms of anti-oppression it is definitely a positive thing for gay rights and queer rights,” said Casey Leigh-Berard, who recently married her girlfriend, Chris, in Guelph, Ontario. “Being married shows we are just normal people and want to have a family and we are committed for life.”

“To have a legal marriage you must promise yourself to the other person for the rest of your life. It’s a big deal.

“It’s a big commitment to stand up there and say that and in a commitment service you don’t necessarily have to make that promise.”

Gay couples have been queuing up to marry, buoyed by the fact that on June 10, an Ontario appeals court ruled the current laws, which define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, violated the dignity of gays and lesbians. In keeping with the times, the new Canadian Oxford dictionary will soon revise its definition of the word “marriage” to read “the legal or religious union of two people”.

Toronto, Canada’s largest city and the Ontario capital, has seen 1003 same-sex marriages performed in the past six months. Of these, 356 marriages involved couples from the US who have eagerly crossed the 49th parallel. Another 46 couples from outside North America were also married in Toronto during this period.

But the liberal attitude towards gay marriage is by no means reciprocated in the US.

When one Canadian gay couple passed through US immigration at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport last summer they brazenly filled in one immigration form between them, claiming they were a family.

The baffled immigration officer denied them entry. Quickly, their lawyer complained to the Canadian foreign affairs department demanding that Canada challenge the US. The Canadian government wisely refused to meddle in US law.

It’s not surprising that Toronto has become the centre of the fight for equality for gay and lesbian marriages.

The city has long supported gay rights and has a large gay population. In addition, its annual Gay Pride Parade draws more than one million out of town visitors.

Like some other lesbian couples, Casey Leigh-Berard and her wife intend to start a family using sperm donated by a male friend. Since the wedding day, they introduce each other as either their wife or partner.

They exchanged vows under the direction of Reverend Lucy Reid, who is an ordained Anglican minister. Because she is the non-denominational chaplain for the University of Guelph – about an hour outside Toronto – she has been given special permission by her bishop to perform same- sex marriages.

“My bishop made it quite clear that [Anglicans] were not doing same-sex marriages,” she says. “I don’t wear my Anglican hat when I perform them.

“I also have an affiliation to the United Church, which does perform same-sex marriages.

“I think Anglicans are still getting over the idea of women being ordained, but this will be discussed at the Anglican synod next April, I believe.”

Clearly, the issue has been a divisive one in Canada, with many Christian fundamentalists opposed to same-sex marriages, fearing that to alter the definition of marriage might open the door to bigamists and poly gamists.

They are also concerned that religious groups might be forced, under the Canadian charter of rights and freedoms, to perform these ceremonies against their principles.

A fortnight ago, Prime Minister Jean Chretien stepped down and Paul Martin was sworn in as his successor. Martin, a devout Roman Catholic, seemed to vacillate from the previous government’s position by suggesting that there might be an alternative to using the word “marriage”, offering “civil unions” as a possibility.

Naturally, his off-the-cuff comments didn’t go unnoticed by the gay community, and he will feel the heat in the new year.

Leading the fight for popular opinion in Canada has been Canadians for Equal Marriage, an org an isation with offices in Ottawa and Toronto which has operated under the umbrella of Egal (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) since the Ontario court ruling.

Bob Gallagher is the national co-ordinator for the group and claims the issue has been more than winning court battles across the country. He says the latest public opinion polls strongly favour same-sex marriages.

The province of Alberta and its conservative premier, Ralph Klein, have been voices of dissent going so far as to threaten to use a clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to stop same-sex marriages.

“A civil union would involve changing a profound number of laws both at the federal and provincial level,” says Gallagher, “from the governor general’s pension plan to the immigration act, through to all kinds of provincial laws which define those benefits and rights, privileges and obligations in terms of spouse and married couples.

“All of those would have to be changed. And to be honest it would take years and years before it filtered all the way through the various statutes of the federal government.

“But the real issue here between ‘civil unions’ and same-sex marriage is one of the lives of the people who actually live it.

“There is a big difference when little Johnny on the playground gets harrassed or intimidated by one of his playmates about not being a real family or his mother not being a real mother.

“He can say: ‘My family is just like yours, and my parents are married just like yours’.”
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