Same-sex couples began getting married in Toronto June 10. Married-married. Under the regular marriage laws.
The weddings began hours after the province of Ontario's highest court, the Court of Appeal, ruled that the federal government's
definition of marriage was unconstitutional and ordered the Toronto city clerk to issue marriage licenses immediately to several gay
couples who had sued for the right to marry.
Toronto City Hall and other municipalities responded that they would issue a marriage license to any same-sex couple that
otherwise met the license criteria. And the first full same-sex marriages in North America began.
The court's ruling said:
'To remedy the infringement of these constitutional rights, we:
'(1) declare the existing common law definition of marriage to be invalid to the extent that it refers to 'one man and one woman';
'(2) reformulate the common law definition of marriage as 'the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others';
'(3) order the declaration of invalidity in (1) and the reformulated definition in (2) to have immediate effect;
'(4) order the Clerk of the City of Toronto to issue marriage licenses to the Couples; and
'(5) order the Registrar General of the Province of Ontario to accept for registration the marriage certificates of Kevin Bourassa and
Joe Varnell and of Elaine and Anne Vautour.'
Bourassa and Varnell and the Vautours were married in 2001 by a Metropolitan Community Church minister but the province
refused to register their marriages. They were married via the ancient Christian tradition of 'publishing the banns of marriage' (asking
in church on three Sundays if anyone objects to the marriage) which is a legal alternative in Ontario to obtaining a marriage license
from the city.
Following the ruling, one of the couples at the heart of the legal challenge wasted no time in getting hitched. Michael Leshner and
Michael Stark tied the knot before an Ontario Superior Court justice that afternoon as Leshner's 90-year-old mother and a gaggle of
reporters looked on.
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'We're blissfully happy,' Leshner said. 'The bench has wished us a long, happy marriage and we hope to fulfill that. ... Go tell
[Prime Minister] Jean Chrétien it's dead. The argument's over. No more political discussion, we've won, the Charter [of Rights and
Freedoms] won, it's a great day for Canada.'
Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids discrimination that cannot be 'demonstrably justified in a free and democratic
The federal government has made no effort to halt the Ontario marriages. Justice Minister Martin Cauchon says Liberal Party
officials are studying the ruling and trying to decide what to do. The feds could appeal to the Canadian Supreme Court but there is a
good chance gays would win there as well. Failure to appeal will allow the Ontario decision to become law nationally. Cauchon also
could send the Supreme Court a constitutional-reference case of his own crafting seeking the justices' thoughts on the matter. That
would buy some time.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister John Manley told reporters, 'I think it's time for us to recognize that same-sex marriages are
part of our societal norm.'
And federal Liberal leadership frontrunner Paul Martin, who likely will become Canada's next Prime Minister when Jean Chrétien
retires next year, said: 'We can't discriminate between Canadians. ... If the court decides that it's a question of rights, it's a question of
rights and you can't discriminate.'
Ontario provincial officials promised to follow the Court of Appeal ruling and register the same-sex marriages—the two from 2001
and the new ones.
'I'm charged to follow the laws and will follow the laws with regards to this matter,' Ontario Attorney General Norm Sterling said.
'We said during the appeal process that the province of Ontario would follow the court ruling. We made that clear during the process.'
A court in Quebec and British Columbia's highest court also recently declared the opposite-sex definition of marriage
unconstitutional but both courts gave the federal government more than a year to change the law before having it forcibly changed by
the court. The Ontario ruling left no such gap.
A different mood has emerged in the conservative province of Alberta. Premier Ralph Klein said there will be no gay marriages
there, and gay marriages from elsewhere won't be recognized either.
It is unlikely Alberta has the power to carry through on Klein's threat. He promised to invoke a very rarely used section of the
Constitution called 'the notwithstanding clause' that allows provinces to enact temporary laws that contradict the Charter of Rights
and Freedoms. Such laws, however, cannot usurp federal power—and the definition of marriage is a federal matter in Canada.
'If there is any move to sanctify and legalize same-sex marriages, we will use the notwithstanding clause. Period. End of story,' Klein
'The Ralph Klein government [is] beyond their jurisdiction on that—and it likely wouldn't survive a court challenge from a same-
sex couple wishing to marry in Alberta,' Carleton University political-science professor Miriam Smith told Windy City Times. 'Ralph is
spouting off hot air to appease the right-wing voters in Alberta. He always does that and then he backs down and says, 'The courts
made us do it!''
A poll taken after the court's ruling found that residents of most provinces support equal marriage rights. The Centre for Research
and Information on Canada asked just under 3,000 people if they agreed or disagreed with gays and lesbians being allowed to
marry. The percentage of respondents who agreed was:
Nova Scotia: 62%
British Columbia: 57%
Prince Edward Island: 54%
New Brunswick: 52%