150+ Canadians Day 102: The Legalization Of Same Sex Marriage

The legalization of same sex marriage in Canada granted a basic human right to same sex couples.

“If you don’t like gay marriage, then don’t get gay married.”   –  Billboard

In the 1960s in Canada gay men were being sent to prison for having sex with men. Bars and bath houses were raided with regularity into the 1980s, and gays and lesbians and transgender people were routinely denied the basic right of access to housing and jobs at an alarming rate. The ability to marry, divorce, adopt their spouses children, adopt from adoption agencies, collect their partners benefits and have full rights when a partner dies – all rights granted to heterosexual spouses, would be hard won by the LGBQT community.

The right to marry is one milestone in a decade’s long struggle for work, housing, religious and social equity, and freedom from persecution, harassment and brutality. LGBQT people and organizations advocated long and hard for changes to provincial and federal laws to enshrine their rights in the human rights legislation at the provincial and federal levels. The Supreme Court, many Liberal, and municipal governments have contributed to a groundswell of legal precedents and social change in regards to LGBQT rights in Canada.

Same-sex marriage in Canada was progressively introduced in several provinces by court decisions beginning in 2003 before being legally recognized nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005. The Court of Appeal for Ontario ruled, in Halpern v. Canada, that the common law definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman violates section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The decision immediately legalized same-sex marriage in Ontario, and sets a legal precedent – over the next two years, similar court decisions legalized same-sex marriage in seven provinces and one territory before the federal Civil Marriage Act was passed in 2005.

The introduction of a federal gender-neutral marriage definition made Canada the fourth country in the world, and the first country outside Europe, to legally recognize same-sex marriage nationwide. Before the federal recognition of same-sex marriage, gays and lesbians challenged laws in almost every province to achieve court decisions had already introduced it in eight out of ten provinces.

In June of 2005 The Liberals’ controversial Bill C-38, titled Law on Civil Marriage, passes a final reading in the House of Commons, sailing through in a 158-133 vote, supported by most members of the Liberal party, the Bloc Québécois and the NDP. The legislation gained royal assent and became law.

In 2006, a motion tabled by the ruling federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper moved to reopen the same-sex marriage debate is defeated in the House of Commons by a vote of 175-123. Twelve Conservatives, including five cabinet ministers, broke from party lines and voted against the motion, while 13 Liberals supported the motion.

Same-sex marriage was legally recognized in the provinces and territories as of the following dates:

  • 2003: Ontario, British Columbia
  • 2004: Quebec, Yukon, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador
  • 2005: New Brunswick
  • 2005 (Civil Marriage Act): Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut, and the Northwest Territories

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