Canadian government mulls appeal as couples rush to marry

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com June 13 2003 12:00 AM ET

The Canadian government said Wednesday that it will need more time to review an Ontario high court decision allowing same-sex couples the right to marry before it decides whether to appeal the decision to the Canadian supreme court or let it stand. In the meantime, increasing numbers of gay and lesbian couples are rushing to get marriage licenses at city clerk's offices across the province. The issue has divided parliament's Liberal caucus and put pressure on Justice Minister Martin Cauchon to act. Cauchon had promised a quick response but then backpedaled after further consideration. "It's a very serious matter, an important issue as well," Cauchon said outside the House of Commons. "It's a complex issue. What we're doing now is reviewing the verdict." Cauchon did not say when he will announce a response. The federal government has 30 days to appeal. If the government refrains from filing an appeal to the supreme court, the Ontario ruling becomes the law of the land.

On Monday the Ontario court declared as unconstitutional the law limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples, making gay and lesbian couples immediately eligible for marriage licenses in Ontario. Nearly two dozen same-sex couples applied for licenses on Wednesday, one day after Canada's first legal wedding between two people of the same sex was conducted. Toronto city government spokesman Brad Ross said 18 of the couples are from Toronto and the others from southern Ontario. The Ontario attorney general said Wednesday that the province would respect the court ruling, indicating that such marriages would be registered. "I'm charged to follow the laws and will follow the laws with regards to this matter," Norm Sterling said.

A parliamentary committee is studying the matter, and opinion polls indicate that a slight majority of Canadians favor legalizing equal marriage rights. Some cabinet ministers said it is time to change the legal definition of marriage to reflect modern social mores, but divisions have emerged among members of the governing Liberal Party. "We're taking an institution that's 5,000 years old--it's underpinned society for millennia and has been the chief way by which men relate to women, women relate to men, and children relate to their parents--and we're just deconstructing it," said John McKay, who represents a Toronto district. Nick Discepola, from a Montreal-area district, invoked a phrase from former prime minister Pierre Trudeau in supporting equal marriage rights. "What people do in their own bedrooms is their own business," he said. Conservative political parties, however, called on the Liberal Party government to appeal the ruling, and Alberta premier Ralph Klein said he would fight any effort to force his province to allow same-sex marriages. The Ontario ruling mirrors others in British Columbia and Quebec backing same-sex unions. However, it differs in that it calls for equal marriage rights immediately.