Canada Outlines Same-Sex Union Options
[OTTAWA] - Canada could have legislation on same-sex unions by spring.
The announcement was made in Ottawa on Thursday by Justice Minister Martin Cauchon as he released a consultation paper setting out the possibilities.
The paper makes no recommendations, but tells the Commons justice committee there are four possibilities: do nothing, give gays and lesbians full marriage rights, create civil union legislation or leave marriage solely in the hands of religious institutions.
"The purpose of the discussion paper is to provide the standing committee with straightforward, contextual information about the legal and social issues concerning marriage and the legal recognition of conjugal relationships, both in Canada and in other jurisdictions," a Justice Department statement said.
The committee will begin public hearings this winter. Cauchon said he expects a report with a recommendation by spring with legislation to be introduced in the House shortly after that.
Gay and lesbian couples have taken the federal government to court in British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, challenging the legal definition of marriage as "a union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."
The gay couples in British Columbia have appealed to the provincial Supreme Court, and Ottawa is appealing the pro-gay decisions in Ontario and Quebec. Thursday night, several of the couples involved in the suits scoffed at Cauchon's options, saying nothing short of full legal marriage is acceptable. They say unless Parliament removes the restrictions on marriage, they will fight all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
One of the couples, Michael Hendricks and Rene LeBoeuf of Montreal, told 365Gay.com Thursday night they believe the minister is attempting "a smokescreen" to strengthen the government's position in the appeals court.
"We intend to go to the Supreme Court of Canada, if they will hear us, to seek full equality under the law. In fact, a Supreme Court decision in our favor is important because it will create the jurisprudence necessary to assure that gays and lesbians will have full civil equality in Canada forever," Hendricks said.
"We want to make it clear to the minister that modifying the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples is the only option which is viable, constitutional and fair," said John Fisher, Egale's executive director. "This is a simple question of equal dignity and respect.
A gay member of the Ontario legislature agrees.
"The equal recognition of same-sex relationships must be the starting point for any legislative initiative. The equality provisions of the Charter are not up for debate," said George Smitherman.
The issue has divided the federal government.
If the justice committee recommends changes to the status quo, "there's going to be a major can of worms," said Toronto Liberal MP Tom Wappel.
Another Toronto area Liberal, Dan McTeague, said: "I didn't think that this would rate as one of the more important issues."
Wappel and McTeague led a revolt within the party when the government brought in legislation granting spousal benefits to same-sex couples. To get the bill passed, the government was forced to add a clause reiterating its support for "traditional" marriage.
Opposition Leader Stephen Harper said Thursday that he is opposed to marriage, but indicated he might be prepared to support civil unions.
"There are several options in this paper that are ultimately consistent with our goal of preserving the traditional definition of marriage," he said.