2 min

Court: Gay marriage legal now

Governments reviewing implications

Right after Tuesday’s Ontario Court Of Appeal same-sex marriage decision, Michael Leshner walked up to the marriage desk at Toronto City Hall, asked for a marriage licence and was given the form. The word “woman” was crossed out on the application.

It’s just about two persons.

Three years ago, when he and his partner Michael Stark made the same request, they were denied the form. That denial – along with the denial of six other couples plus two who were married in a church – triggered the long legal battle resulting in the court’s decision.

“Homophobia is dead legally as of today,” says Leshner.

The decision is certainly a big one. The court went further than all others so far in saying that the prohibition against same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Unlike other courts which have made this finding, the Ontario Court Of Appeal did not give governments a grace period to change the law – it ordered Toronto City Hall to issue marriage licences to homo couples effective immediately Tuesday morning.

But as the federal and provincial governments examine the implication of the decision, the question remains: Is a same-sex marriage licence worth the paper it’s written on?

“We are still reviewing the decision, full stop,” says Gerald Crowell, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry Of Consumer And Business Services. Will the Ontario registrar-general register the licences? Do they make same-sex partners eligible for student loans, taxation or immigration purposes?

“I don’t think we’ve thought that far ahead yet,” says Crowell.

The federal government didn’t have much to say Tuesday.

“We have just received the decision. We haven’t decided how to respond,” says Patrick Charette, senior advisor for the Attorney General Of Canada’s office.

The feds are still contemplating whether to appeal a British Columbia Court Of Appeal decision last month that also said banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. That court gave the government until July 2004 to change the laws.

The couples involved in the court challenge were ecstatic.

“We heard that the decision was coming down today but we had no idea that in fact the remedy would be that we could get married immediately,” says Joyce Barnett who, along with partner Allison Kemper, was also issued a marriage permit by the city clerk.

The unanimous judgment of the Ontario Court Of Appeal upheld the Ontario Superior Court decision in favour of same-sex marriage and demanded that the federal government immediately reformulate the common law definition of marriage to read, “the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others.

“The court holds that the dignity of persons in same-sex relationships is violated by the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution of marriage,” wrote the court in its 60-page statement.

“Exclusion from marriage – a fundamental societal institution – perpetuates the view that same-sex relationships are less worthy of recognition than opposite-sex relationships.”

“This is the first court decision in the world that demands full and equal recognition of same-sex marriage,” says lawyer Martha McCarthy, who along with lawyer Joanna Radbord argued on behalf of seven couples who were seeking civil marriages. Two other couples who were married in 2001 at the Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto also participated.