2 min

No legal recourse

Same-sex marriage debate in the hands of parliamentarians

Canada’s Supreme Court has refused to let right-wing conservative religious groups appeal a court ruling that legalizes same-sex marriage in Ontario.

In a unanimous decision, the five-judge Supreme Court panel said the groups cannot appeal the Ontario court’s ruling that the traditional definition of marriage as being between a man and woman was unconstitutional.

The Association for Marriage and the Family in Ontario and the Interfaith Coalition on Marriage and Family filed the appeal after the federal government refused to do so.

The high court rarely delivers any reasons for its decisions in this sort of application but comments from the justices provided hints as to their frame of mind. Justice Frank Iacobucci challenged lawyers representing the coalitions on how the court could be expected to force the federal government to continue the battle on an issue it has already conceded to be unconstitutional

Gilles Marchildon, executive director of Egale Canada, says it’s another victory in a long battle for equality for gays and lesbians. “The fight is certainly not over, if anything it has underlined that this issue now belongs in the legislative arena. The issue has played its course throughout the courts and is now in the laps of parliamentarians,” he says.

“The government is now free to introduce legislation. Same-sex marriage is here to stay in Ontario and British Columbia. There is no legal recourse for that to be reversed now,” says Marchildon.

The government has drafted new legislation that changes the definition of marriage to a union between two people. It has submitted the proposed legislation to the Supreme Court for judicial review before introducing it in the House of Commons, which is expected in the middle of next year.

If the Supreme Court decides that the draft legislation is constitutional, it will be put to a free vote in the Commons, meaning MPs would not have to vote along party lines. If passed, Canada would become the world’s third country to allow same-sex marriage.

Marchildon says there is still work to do especially with a new Liberal administration and a rapidly approaching federal election. “Things are really now in the political front and we are extremely frustrated with Paul Martin’s lack of leadership on this issue.”

Hundreds of same-sex couples have been married in both Ontario and British Columbia since their respective courts ruled that the definition of marriage discriminated against gays and lesbians.

Beth Ward and Jesse Clarke of Ottawa were one of the very first couples to get married after the ruling and both are thrilled with the decision but say the work is not over yet. “I feel badly for other people in other provinces,” says Ward. “I feel fortunate to live here in Ontario, but it is disconcerting that some people in the same situation don’t have the same rights,” she says.

Ward says it rocks to have equal rights. “It feels very good to have our relationship sanctioned by the country,” she says.