Premier Backs Same-Sex Marriages
Won't Appeal Decision
[BELLEVILLE, Ont. and OTTAWA] - Ernie Eves, the Ontario Premier, said yesterday he has no objection to same-sex marriage and his Conservative government will not be appealing a landmark Ontario Superior Court ruling that would allow gays and lesbian to wed.
"Everybody has their own personal point of view on this issue. My point of view is that if two people decide that they want to be in a union, why would I interfere with that? That's my personal point of view," Eves said.
While he emphasized that his opinion should not be "misconstrued as a government's point of view," he said he would leave it to the federal government in Ottawa to appeal last Friday's unanimous Ontario Superior Court decision that lifted the ban on same-sex marriages in Ontario.
Martin Cauchon, the federal Justice Minister, said Ottawa is still working on its response to the court ruling and has not ruled out extending the definition of marriage to two people of the same sex.
"I'm not saying that we're not going to [go along with the ruling]," Cauchon said. "I mean, in each and every case where we're facing the judgment from a court, we take the time to proceed with a good analysis of the situation and then after, we get back to the people."
It is unlikely the federal government will please everyone with its response. The office of Ralph Klein, the Alberta Premier, said the province has no plans to recognize same-sex marriages and is urging the federal government to appeal the Ontario court decision.
"Most Albertans believe that marriage is fundamentally a union between a man and a woman," said spokeswoman Joanne Rosnau.
In contrast, Quebec's legislators voted unanimously last month in favour of a bill recognizing gay unions and allowing parental rights of same-sex couples. Paul Bgin, the Quebec Justice Minister, said: "[As] a sign of Quebecers' open-mindedness, the law creates a new institution, civil union, open to all couples, without regard to their sexual orientation, and having all the legal effect of marriage."
Yesterday, Cauchon spoke highly of the Quebec approach. "If we decide to do something, there's many ways. I mean, look at what has been done in many countries in the world. The province of Quebec is a good example, and other countries as well."
Spokesmen for premiers Gordon Campbell, of British Columbia, Gary Doer, of Manitoba, and Bernard Lord, of New Brunswick, said their Attorney-Generals' offices are reviewing the matter, and declined to comment.
Eves said it is up to Ottawa to make a decision. "Listen, I have enough problems in our areas of jurisdiction without going into federal areas of jurisdiction. We'll just be urging the federal government to get on with what the court has decided and to do something about the issue," he said after a special Cabinet meeting in Belleville, Ont.
"If two people decide that they want to call themselves spouses, [it's] not for me to interfere [with] that," said Eves, 56, who is in a common-law relationship with Isabel Bassett, chairwoman of TVOntario.
Despite repeatedly insisting he was making a personal statement rather than a political one, Eves had a veiled warning for other premiers across Canada who may be plotting to use constitutional provisions to avoid recognizing same-sex marriages.
"Ontario has never used the notwithstanding clause for anything. I think it has to be a pretty serious fundamental issue before a province thinks about using the notwithstanding clause for anything. It's not a power ... that any province should take lightly," he said. "It is a power that says ... 'notwithstanding what's written in the Constitution we are going to override and overrule: We know what's better.'"
The Ontario Premier's tacit approval of gay marriage came just 10 days before the deadline for an appeal of the Superior Court ruling. Regardless of whether Ottawa appeals the ruling, Mr. Cauchon will have some time to act because the three-judge panel suspended its decision for 24 months to allow Parliament to recast the legal definition of marriage as the "lawful and voluntary union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."
If Ottawa does not move before July, 2004, the definition of marriage in Ontario will automatically change to the union of "two persons." The ruling binds civil marriages, not religious ceremonies. The court said the old definition "offends" the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms' guarantees of equality, freedom of expression, association, conscience and religion, and the right to liberty and security of the person.
"These many egregious infringements cannot be demonstrably ... justified in a free and democratic society. The exclusion of same-sex couples serves no pressing, nor even legitimate, government objectives. The only remedy that will suffice is to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil marriages," wrote Justice Harry LaForme.
"The restriction against same-sex marriage is an offence to the dignity of lesbians and gays because it limits the range of relationship options available to them."
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