2 min

CUPE fights for same-sex marriage

Union presses government to offer full rights

Canada’s largest union is fighting for the right of same-sex couples to legally marry.

Judy Darcy, the president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), told members of the House of Commons Committee on Justice and Human Rights to give full marriage rights to lesbian and gay couples.

“We have, through our history, fought really hard at the bargaining table for same-sex benefits,” Darcy says. “We’ve broken new ground on pension rights for same-sex partners. We have also spoken up for same-sex marriage and we think it’s about time the federal government made it legal.”

The Justice Committee is conducting hearings across Canada on the issue of same-sex marriage.

Darcy says CUPE has adopted the position that true equality for lesbian and gay Canadians logically entails the extension of marriage rights. She maintains the current restriction on equal marriage is discriminatory, for it denies a segment of the Canadian population access to legal, religious and social institutions that are available to the majority of Canadians.

“The fight for equality has not been easy, but we’ve pushed ahead and we are not going to stop until we have full equality for all Canadian workers,” she says.

Darcy adds that gays and lesbians are not looking for special treatment under the law. She says same-sex couples want to marry for all the same reasons that opposite-sex couples do. “The extension of marriage rights would enhance the validity of the relationships and help bring an end to the discrimination.”

Recent public opinion polls show that over half of Canadians strongly or somewhat support same-sex marriage. Currently only two countries allow same-sex partners to marry, the Netherlands and Belgium.

Egale Canada, a long-time advocate for same-sex marriage, welcomes the support from CUPE. Executive Director Gilles Marchildon says they are de-lighted but not surprised and hopes other unions come on board. “This will certainly have a trickle-down effect. They are such a large and important union and I think they will play a lead role,” says Marchildon.

Despite the union’s support, Marchildon argues there is still a long road ahead. “I am concerned because several members of that committee have expressed really strong views to the effect they don’t recognize the arguments in favor of equality and we don’t think anything is a given at this point.”

The federal government has three options to choose from when addressing the same-sex marriage issue. They could maintain the status quo, which would undoubtedly lead to further court challenges; create a new civil union or partnership registry for same-sex couples; or get out of the marriage business altogether. Under this option the federal law pertaining to marriage would be repealed and be replaced with a registry system for all couples, thus allowing religious institutions the authority to decide whether or not to perform same-sex marriages.

Both Darcy and Marchildon agree that the extension of marriage rights to same-sex couples is a natural step for equality rights in Canada.

* For more information on the hearings, you can contact your local Member of Parliament or Egale Canada at 230-1043.