In Depth

Same-sex rights

The Supreme Court and same-sex marriage

Last Updated June 14, 2005

Same-sex rights in Canada have come a long way since 1965. It was then that the Supreme Court of Canada upheld a ruling that labelled Everett Klippert a "dangerous sexual offender" and threw him in prison for admitting he was gay and that he had sex with other men.

Today homosexual Canadians enjoy much more freedom and societal acceptance: not only are they not imprisoned for their sexual orientation, openly gay or lesbian Canadians hold prominent positions in business, government and many churches.

Now they're taking another step. Homosexuals in Canada are fighting for the right to be legally married, with all the same benefits and responsibilities as traditional opposite-sex couples. In July 2003, the government of Prime Minister Jean Chr�tien unveiled draft legislation that would change the definition of marriage to include the unions of same-sex couples.

The issue has caused an uproar among many church leaders and traditionalists who argue the government does not have the right to redefine marriage.

On Dec. 9, 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Ottawa has exclusive jurisdiction to decide who has the right to get married in this country - but that religious groups are not obliged to perform unions against their beliefs.

The decision means that same-sex marriages performed in seven provinces and one territory are legal and must be recognized. Same-sex marriages are not performed in Alberta, New Brunswick, P.E.I., Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, but the Nunavut government will recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Prime Minister Paul Martin said the government will proceed with legislation legalizing same-sex marriage across the country early in 2005.

Martin has promised a free vote on the bill - although cabinet ministers will be expected to support the legislation.

The fight may not be over - Alberta's justice minister responded to the Supreme Court decision by saying the province's marriage law, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, won't be changed.

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