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Canadian court approves world's first same-sex divorce

Canadian court approves world's first same-sex divorce

An Ontario court has approved Canada's first same-sex divorce after a judge ruled that the definition of spouse in the Divorce Act is unconstitutional. The lesbian couple--identified in court documents only as J.H. and M.M.--had been together for almost 10 years when they married in June 2003, shortly after the Ontario court of appeal legalized same-sex marriages. They separated five days later. Superior court justice Ruth Mesbur on Monday struck down the section of the Divorce Act that said only spouses--defined as a man and woman--can divorce. "The definition of a spouse is unconstitutional, inoperative, and of no force and effect," Mesbur said. Lawyer Martha McCarthy, who represented one of the women, said the ruling is historic. "We believe that this is not just the first gay or lesbian divorce in Canada but actually the first gay or lesbian divorce in the world," she said outside the court. "It's an important step when we talk about the legal landscape as it exists at the moment." In July, less than 24 hours after the couple's divorce petition was publicized, the federal Justice Department conceded that excluding gays and lesbians from the definition of spouse in the Divorce Act would prohibit them from divorcing and was therefore unconstitutional. "It would be absurd to say it's legal to get married but not divorced," McCarthy said. "As usual, though, the federal government's approach to all things involving same-sex issues is, 'If we can obfuscate and delay, we will."' Mesbur reserved judgment on whether she'll rewrite the definition of spouse. McCarthy said the couple realized their marriage was a mistake and there was no reasonable possibility of reconciliation. "They ironically believed marriage would solve their problems," she said. In three weeks the supreme court of Canada will hold a hearing on the federal government's draft legislation legalizing same-sex marriage across Canada, McCarthy added. Three Canadian provinces, accounting for about 70% of the country's 31 million people, allow same-sex marriage: Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia. The Yukon Territory also allows such unions.

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