2 min

Government closes loophole in marriage law

C-32 will allow non-Canadian gay couples to divorce in Canada

Non-Canadian queer couples can sleep easy, knowing that the Canadian government is happy to grant them divorces. Credit: ThinkStock
At long last, the government has won its battle to fix a problem that probably doesn't exist. But the symbolic victory is nice, just the same.
The Harper government's C-32, an act that closes a loophole opened by one of the Justice Department's own lawyers, received royal assent after sweeping through the House and Senate. Some wondered if the bill would ever be passed after months of it hanging around Parliament in legislative limbo.
Xtra reported last July on the hysteria over the supposed hole in Canadian marriage law that some, like American columnist Dan Savage, said annulled thousands of foreign marriages. It all arose after a Government of Canada lawyer argued that a British/American couple could not divorce because they were not Canadian residents when they married, and their home countries did not recognize their union. That appears to be the only time that loophole was ever exploited.
So, scrambling to quell the uproar, the Conservatives drafted and tabled C-32. The NDP introduced duelling legislation that it said better addressed the problem but that critics said could open a Pandora's box.
Neither went anywhere. The NDP's private member's bill languished at the bottom of the order paper, and the Tory legislation was held up because of the NDP, a press spokesperson for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson told Xtra.
The NDP pointed out that the Conservatives had a majority government and could pass legislation whenever they wanted.
Just the same, the Conservatives refused to bring it forward until they could count on the NDP's support. House leaders Peter Van Loan, for the government, and Nathan Cullen, for the NDP, have sparred back and forth several times since January. Van Loan wanted it passed unanimously, which would send it flying through the House in days, while Cullen wanted an hour of debate on it.
In the end, the NDP caved and supported the bill in exchange for the government's supporting a measure on transparency for MPs' expenses.
Then the bill made it to the Senate, where each senator was more supportive than the last, and it breezed through in a matter of days, receiving royal assent on June 26.
Albertan Senator Doug Black seemed to sense the uselessness of the bill, but endorsed it just the same. "Although this bill has no effect on same-sex marriage laws in other countries, it is symbolic of Canada’s commitment to marriage equality,” Black said. “It sends a clear message to those who have come to Canada from other countries seeking to express their commitment to one another in marriage. It demonstrates that Canada believes all couples should be treated with dignity and respect for their choices.”
Senator Serge Joyal noted that it had been eight years since Canada extended marriage rights to same-sex couples and, noting the tense reality of that debate in France, told the Senate that Canada's was downright "academic" in comparison.
"Eight years later, we can recognize the progress that has been realized worldwide on the basis of ground that was broken by Canada," Joyal told the upper chamber.
Certainly, eight years ago, it would seem unfathomable that the Harper government would be falling over itself to ensure that marriage is truly equal in Canada.
Now, non-Canadian queer couples can sleep easy, knowing that the Canadian government is happy to grant them divorces — should they ever need one.