Originally published on Advocate.com July 18 2003 12:00 AM ET
The Canadian government on Thursday unveiled a draft law rewriting the country's official definition of marriage to a "lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others." The one-page gay marriage bill was also being forwarded Thursday to the Canadian supreme court for review, but a judicial response is not expected until October, when the justices are set to reconvene. The federal government has said it would like to tackle the legislation this fall in the House of Commons and have the new law in place by the time Prime Minister Jean Chretien retires in February.
Justice Minister Martin Cauchon is asking the supreme court to review the proposed legislation and
offer an opinion on whether it is consistent with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The government is also asking the court whether the proposed change is within the legislative authority of parliament. According to the Toronto Star, the government is hoping the court will rule that Ottawa has exclusive jurisdiction over marriage, thwarting Alberta's threat not to distribute marriage licenses to gays and lesbians. A third question being referred to the court asks whether religious freedom
guarantees in the charter protect religious officials from being compelled to perform same-sex marriages if such marriages are contrary to their beliefs.
As the country's gay rights activists are hailing the legislation and expressing confidence that it will pass, many religious conservatives are making clear their intent to defeat it. The Canada Family Action Coalition is already fund-raising for its "defense of marriage" campaign, which will feature ads that attempt to influence lawmakers to vote against the bill. The coalition and other groups have launched an application to appeal last month's Ontario appeals court decision opening the door to gay marriage. Normally, only the losing side can appeal to the supreme court, but the coalition's lawyers believe there is precedent to allow a third party to do so. The court isn't limited to considering only the questions the federal government provides; it could ask--and then answer--some of its own. It could take many months before the court holds a hearing on the reference and delivers a judgment, government officials said.