Nova Scotia OKs same-sex marriage

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Nova Scotia became the sixth Canadian province to sanction same-sex marriages Sept. 24 when Nova Scotia Supreme Court Justice Heather Robertson upheld the Ontario marriage of a lesbian couple living in Nova Scotia. Three gay couples had challenged the marriage laws, resulting in the judge’s ruling that “civil marriage between two persons of the same sex is therefore lawful and valid.”

“We are celebrating our 20th anniversary together this year,” said Ron and Bryan Garnette-Doucette, two of the six plaintiffs, “and we are so thrilled and excited that finally at this milestone in our loving relationship we now have the right to get married here in our home province, with our friends and families at our side.”

The ruling came about a week after a Manitoba judge ruled along the same lines. In that case, in response to a legal challenge launched by three gay and lesbian couples against provincial laws that did not permit same-sex marriage, Judge Douglas Yard ruled Sept. 16 that “the traditional definition of marriage is no longer constitutionally valid in view of the provisions of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” He ordered the province to immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples who wanted to marry.

The Nova Scotia and Manitoba rulings represent the latest of a string of successful court challenges of discriminatory provincial marriage laws that only allow marriage between opposite-sex couples. Since last year, in addition to Nova Scotia and Manitoba, courts in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and the Yukon have forced provincial governments to make marriage laws inclusive of gay couples.

Same-sex marriage proponents vow that they will continue to undertake legal actions against discriminatory marriage laws in the remaining six provinces and territories of Canada that do not allow same-sex marriage. However, their biggest test will come on Oct. 6 when the Supreme Court begins assessing the federal government’s legislation allowing same-sex marriage.

Currently, Canada has around 3,000 married gay and lesbian couples. About 82 percent of Canadians live in provinces and territories where same-sex couples can marry. According to the Centre for Research and Information on Canada and Environics, the number of Canadians supporting same-sex marriage rights has increased, with 57 percent in support as opposed to 38 percent against.

In related news, an Ontario judge has granted the first divorce to a same-sex couple in Canada and annulled the Canadian Divorce Act because it only includes heterosexual couples. Madam Justice Ruth Mesbur of the Ontario Superior Court on Sept. 13 granted a divorce to a Toronto lesbian couple who did not want their names mentioned.

The two women, who had been together for 10 years, married in 2003 after the Ontario Court of Appeal ordered the provincial government to permit same-sex marriage. In granting the divorce, Mesbur declared “unconstitutional, inoperative and of no force and effect the definition of ‘spouse’” in the federal Divorce Act because of its failure to include same-sex couples.” Mesbur is expected to announce over the next few weeks measures that the federal government must take to remedy the situation. While gay couples can legally marry in Ontario, divorce laws were not changed to allow divorce between same-sex couples.

The author can be reached at tpelzer@shaw.ca.