Same-sex marriage confusion reaches beyond border

Americans who married their same-sex partners in Canada, including syndicated U.S. columnist Dan Savage, say they're dumbfounded a federal government lawyer is arguing their unions aren't valid.

U.S. columnist Dan Savage says Canada has reopened marriage debate

U.S. columnist Dan Savage, right, poses with husband Terry Miller, left, as they wait for President Barack Obama to speak at a LGBT Pride Month event at the White House last June. Savage says Canada's government has reopened the debate over gay marriage with an argument presented by a federal lawyer in a divorce case. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Americans who married their same-sex partners in Canada say they're dumbfounded a government lawyer is arguing their unions aren't valid.

One high-profile columnist has already written an angry blog post over the news, which comes out of a case in Ontario where a federal lawyer argued two women couldn't get divorced because they aren't Canadian residents and their marriage isn't recognized where they live.

The two women, whose names are protected by a court order, were married in Canada but live in Florida and England.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he wasn't aware of the details of the case. A source said the prime minister's office wasn't aware of the specifics of the arguments of the Department of Justice.

"When we first came to office we had a vote on this issue. We have no intention of further reopening or opening this issue," Harper said in Halifax.

'Looking at options to clarify law'

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement Thursday afternoon that the government is looking at ways to make the law more clear.


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"I will be looking at options to clarify the law so that marriages performed in Canada can be undone in Canada," he said.

"I want to be very clear that the government has no intention of reopening the debate on the definition of marriage."

Columnist Dan Savage, who married his husband in Vancouver after gay marriage was legalized in Canada, said in a blog post Thursday morning that Canada's government has now decided marriages like his own are not legally valid.

"Now if you'll excuse me I need to go wake up my husband and tell him we got divorced last night," he wrote.

Speaking to Evan Solomon, host of CBC's Power & Politics, Savage said it's too late to say the government doesn't want to reopen the debate.

"This is arbitrary and this is unfair and it is reopening the issue," he said.

"You can’t strip people of their right to wed, you can’t invalidate legally entered-into marriages with the filing of a legal brief and then say, 'Oh, but now we don’t want to talk about it anymore.'"

Savage says it seems the government is walking back from the position that the Department of Justice took in the court document.

"I think the Harper government is realizing that they’ve really stepped in it, they’ve really angered a lot of people," he said.

But it wasn't just anger some couples were feeling.

Carrie Evans, a Canadian who lives in Baltimore and married her wife in British Columbia, told CBC's Tom Parry she called her wife in tears to give her the news.

"I’m dumbfounded," she said. "It’s just emotionally overwhelming right now."

Evans says she's a lawyer but doesn't yet know what it means. She said it's bringing back feelings of insecurity about health care, medical decisions and immigration that she had before she was married.

"I have to believe that Prime Minister Harper is going to see the errors of this factum and reaffirm Canada’s commitment to equality," Evans said.

"We certainly know that many members of his party do not support marriage equality and perhaps this will be a way to chip away at that."

'Over the top crazy'

A spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union said the argument put forward by the federal government lawyer "seems over the top crazy," but cautions that it's not a court ruling or a position taken by Harper or Nicholson.

"I see no reason at all for a government lawyer to take the position that these people were never married because a) they don’t need to make that argument to win and b) it is so wrong," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU's lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and AIDS project.

Esseks says he's already gotten questions from people who saw reports of the court document and have questions, but for now he's not worried.

"I would be shocked if a Canadian court agreed with this position," he said.