The Canadian government is expected to deliver a draft bill and three clear constitutional questions to the Supreme Court of Canada later this week in an effort to establish a new federal law allowing gays and lesbians the right to marry nationwide, the Ottawa Citizen reports. The proposed legislation seeks to reword Canada's 137-year-old legal definition of marriage, which will change from the union of "one man and one woman" to "two persons." The wording will reflect the recent ruling from the Ontario court of appeal, which changed the definition in Canada's largest province to reflect the Charter of Rights guarantee of equality, prompting a wave of same-sex marriages in recent weeks. The Justice Department is asking the Supreme Court to vet the proposed bill by giving nonbinding legal advice on whether it complies with the Charter of Rights, a special process known as a reference.
Two other questions will also be posed to the court: Is it constitutional for the bill to state that religious institutions cannot be forced to perform gay weddings? Is the definition of marriage the exclusive
jurisdiction of the federal government rather than the provinces? The latter question is designed to preempt a potential showdown with Alberta, which argues that the provinces should have a say in who can legally wed since they are responsible for the marriage procedure, including the issuance of licenses.
Federal officials expect that the Supreme Court will give the provinces and interest groups, including religious institutions and gay rights activists, the opportunity to advance their arguments in the case. "We can't stop the government from doing what it's going to do…but any opportunity we have to make our case, we would definitely try to get involved in that," Derek Rogusky, a spokesman for Focus on the Family, a group that will hold a news conference today in Ottawa to assert its opposition to same-sex marriage, told the Citizen. The Supreme Court does not return from its summer break until early October, so the case would not be heard until fall at the earliest. It could then be several more months before the court issues a legal opinion. There would then be a vote on the bill in the House of Commons, where MPs will be able to vote their conscience rather than being told to follow the party line. Justice Minister Martin Cauchon has said he would like same-sex marriage to become law by the time Prime Minister Jean Chretien leaves office next February.