5 min

Same-sex marriage!

Resources and links to keep you informed and to help you take action!

News headlines

We won: Parliament seals same-sex marriage rights

In the end it was an easy victory for same-sex marriage rights. Some 59 percent of MPs rejected Stephen Harper’s motion calling on Parliament to restore the “traditional definition of marriage.”
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Canada envy of the world
Stephen Harper admitted that equal marriage rights are permanent following the defeat of a motion to re-open debate failed by a margin of 52 votes.
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Paul Martin rushes back from China for marriage vote
A Liberal bash thrown at a former Hooter’s restaurant by two former Conservatives got a boost Dec 7 with the surprise arrival of ex-prime minister Paul Martin.
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NDP leader Jack Layton and gay MP Bill Siksay attend student rally
Chanting “Queer Carleton U, since 1992” and “gay or straight, C-38”, dozens of Carleton students and community members descended on Parliament on Dec 7.
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Harper’s cabinet and the vote

(Ottawa, Dec 7) Four Conservative cabinet ministers are expected to vote against re-opening same-sex marriage.
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Backbenchers and the vote
Party lines blur as Liberals and Conservatives allow free vote.
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Will it ever end?
Harper rumoured to be preparing yet another marriage bill.
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Protect the children
(Ottawa, Dec 7)  Sometimes your progress is measured by the seemingly smallest of things. Like words. And tone. Conservatives use code in opposing equal marriage.
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Toews confirms a vote before Christmas
(Ottawa, Nov 22) –  Vic Toews says the Conservatives will introduce a motion to reopen parliamentary debate on same-sex marriage before Christmas, fulfilling an oft-repeated election promise. But calculating exactly when the vote will be held is a bit like solving a logic puzzle.

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Harper denies religious protection plans
(Ottawa, Oct 4) –  Stephen Harper is in damage control mode after an apparent leak in the federal Justice Department suggested the Conservatives are looking to enshrine the rights of homophobes in law. 
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Soggy equal marriage protest on the Hill
(Ottawa, Sep 28) – The Christian Right’s rally on Parliament Hill to oppose same-sex marriage got off to a slow and soggy start Sep 28 and only attracted some 70 participants despite advance national coverage. 
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The background

Long road to same-sex marriage
How did we get to this point?

Story by Marcus McCann

In 2000, an all but forgotten law became national news: the reading of the banns. Remember that?

Reverend Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto announced in December that he would be marrying a gay couple and a lesbian couple using an obscure Ontario law.

When the controversial minister married two couples – Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Elaine and Anne Vautour – on Jan 14, 2001, it was believed to be the first state-sanctioned gay marriage in Canada.

The scene had been set in the previous year and a half. The Liberal majority government extended common-law partnerships to gay and lesbian relationships in Oct 1999 and Feb 2000, after the findings of M versus H, a Supreme Court ruling which deemed Ontario’s heterosexist definition of “spouse” unconstitutional. In a weird bit of foreshadowing, the fall of 2000 happened to be the same time that the Netherlands was debating extending access to marriage to same-sex couples, which it did on Apr 1, 2001.

A rosy picture. Well, sort of. The Ontario registrar refused to issue the Vautours’ a marriage license. Ditto for Bourassa and Varnell. It wasn’t until Jun 2003 – when with the help of an Ontario Court of Appeals decision Michael Leshner and Michael Stark were married (and issued licenses) on Jun 10 – that same-sex marriage became official policy in any Canadian jurisdiction. British Columbia followed suit within a month.

Provincial decisions began to pop up all over Canada. In 2004, gay and lesbian couples gained access to marriage in Quebec (March), the Yukon (July), Manitoba (September), Nova Scotia (September), Saskatchewan (November), and Newfoundland (December). After the Ontario decision in Jun 2003, prime minister Jean Chretien pledged his support for the cause, but slow-walking from the feds kept the issue on the national agenda for more than two years.

Activists were startled by the sudden interest in equal marriage. Some vigorously opposed seeking same-sex marriage rights in the first place. Lesbian feminists and gay sexual liberationists – often at odds over issues like pornography, censorship, and age of consent- found common ground in critiques of the conservative, patriarchal, property-based apparatus of the state. But once the battle was well underway and religious antagonists were organizing against our community, many called for the community to unite to fight for same-sex marriage. Some members of the community remain luke-warm to an idea that they find does not reflect their own lives or aspirations, nor their beliefs about creating alternative ways of organizing society.

The Libs couldn’t seem to follow through, and the issue remained a hot-button topic, emphasizing painful regional and cultural divides within the country. Neither Chretien nor Martin led Parliament to proclaim equal marriage the law during the Liberals’ comfortable majority Parliament, dissolved in May 2004. In fact, first Chretien and then Martin asked the Supreme court for ‘clarification’ on a number of issues, intentionally gumming up what could have been a speedy decision. Signs at Toronto’s Pride Parade – held on the eve of the Jun 28, 2004 election – urged queers to vote. Martin’s government was returned with a minority; the government’s position became more precarious.

Not that same-sex marriage would fail – both the Bloc Quebecois and the NDP supported the bill – but supporters worried that a contested budget would topple the government before it got around to equal marriage. As it became increasingly clear to Bill C-38’s opponents that the law would pass, they put forward a string of last-minute attempts to strike or mutilate the law. A final eight-hour debate in the Senate ended 35 years of same-sex marriage discussion on Jul 19; the bill received royal assent the next day. Although nearly every Canadian could already marry in their home jurisdiction (except for residents of Northwest Territories, Nunavut, PEI, and Alberta), the victory was important symbolically.

Queers braced for a backlash. It took less than six months. In the lead-up to the Jan 23, 2006 election, Harper made a pledge that he would re-open the issue if the Conservatives formed a government. After the Conservatives won a minority government with just 124 seats, Gilles Marchildon, the executive director of Egale, says,  ?We have our work cut out for us. ? Even though two-thirds of Canadians consider equal marriage settled, in June Harper said he would make good on his promise – and soon. Harper plans a two-parter, first asking Parliament if they want to re-open the issue; if that motion passes, it would set the stage for a repeal of gay marriage that would almost certainly land them back in the courts.