2 min

Quebec legalizes gay marriage

Plaintiffs are first to wed in wake of court's ruling

Credit: Capital Xtra files

Quebec’s highest court joined courts in Ontario and British Columbia in legalizing full same-sex marriage on Mar 19. The court ruled that prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying violates Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

The Quebec Court of Appeal quashed an attempt by the Catholic Civil Rights League to appeal an earlier decision of the Quebec Superior Court that had granted marriage rights. The court also lifted the suspension of the Superior Court’s ruling.

Quebec has offered same-sex civil unions, which extend all the provincial rights of marriage, since 2002.

“This is a great day for Quebec and a great day for Canada,” says Bob Gallagher, national coordinator of Canadians for Equal Marriage. “Now same-sex couples can marry in provinces that represent over 70 percent of Canada’s population.”

Michael Hendricks and René LeBoeuf, who were the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the decision, were exultant.

“The floodgates seem to be open and it looks like Canada is going to become the first North American country that has equal marriage and this is wonderful,” Hendricks told reporters.

Unlike in BC and Ontario, where couples, including foreigners, can buy a license and marry the same day, Quebec requires a 20-day waiting period between the acquisition of a license and the wedding itself – for residents and foreigners, straight or gay, alike. The cost of the wedding is $253.06.

However, the 20-day delay can be waived if arrangements are made in advance with the individual who will conduct the marriage.

Using this exemption, Hendricks and LeBoeuf were the first couple married in Quebec. Their marriage took place on Thu, Apr 1.

“We’re ecstatic,” says Gilles Marchildon, the executive director of national lobby group Egale Canada. “Three-fourths of Canadians now have access to full equality because that’s the combined population of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

“We would like our federal elected representatives to support this [with federal legislation opening up marriage],” says Marchildon. “Hopefully, the other provinces will start issuing licenses now, as well, instead of waiting for federal legislation.”

“There’s nothing stopping other provinces from letting same-sex couples marry,” says Laurie Arron, director of advocacy for Egale. “Since the Charter applies across the country, the law must be that same-sex couples can marry across the country. The only reason courts haven’t ruled in the other provinces is that their courts haven’t yet been asked.

“It’s time for the remaining provinces to act,” says Arron. “Federal legislation is required to send a clear signal and to change ancillary laws, but there’s no reason for the provinces to wait. We call on the Attorney-General of Canada to send a clear signal that all provinces and territories should now let same-sex couples marry.”

Paul Martin’s Liberal government has indicated support for legalized same-sex marriage but failed to take decisive action. Instead, activists charge that last year’s decision by Martin’s predecessor, Jean Chretien, to refer a proposed new bill to the Supreme Court of Canada for a legal opinion is nothing more than stonewalling until after a federal election, expected this spring.

A fourth question to the Supreme Court about whether offering an option other than marriage to same-sex couples would be acceptable was added by Martin at the end of January. The original three questions are specific to same-sex marriage and its impact on religious groups. The new question has had the effect of delaying the Supreme Court’s consideration of the matter until October. And no action is expected in Parliament until the court answers the questions.