Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Ottawa Won't Oppose Same-Sex 'Marriage, Divorce' required)

Aug. 17, 01:10 EDT
Ottawa won't oppose same-sex marriage, divorce
Applications will be accepted 'as they arise,' justice minister tells lawyers' conference

The last federal barrier to same-sex marriage and divorce collapsed in dramatic fashion yesterday, with Justice Minister Irwin Cotler offering a blanket assurance that Ottawa will no longer stonewall or resist applications.
"We will not be opposing any of these," he told the annual conference of the Canadian Bar Association. "We will allow these proceedings as they arise."
During a question-and-answer session, Cotler was asked point blank by Toronto lawyer and activist Doug Elliott if the federal government plans to force gays and lesbians to endure court battles as they continue their fight for equality in provinces across the country.
The government opposed same-sex marriage in constitutional challenges to the law brought by gays and lesbians in Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia.
When courts in those provinces ruled that denying same-sex couples the right to marry was unconstitutional, Ottawa reversed its position.
It threw its support behind same-sex marriage in material filed in connection with an upcoming hearing on the issue before the Supreme Court of Canada.
But as gays and lesbians in other provinces applied to marry or divorce, federal lawyers asked judges to delay the proceedings until the country's highest court rules on the constitutionality of proposed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.
The hearing is scheduled for Oct. 6-8, but it could take months, and possibly until next year, before the court releases its decision.
In an interview, Elliott said: "It is a significant shift in the attorney-general's position because up until now, while he has not been opposing, he has been trying to delay."
Cotler's announcement was welcome news to lawyer Sean Foreman, who last Friday began proceedings in the Nova Scotia Supreme Court on behalf of three same-sex couples wanting to marry.
One is a lesbian couple who married in Toronto last year after same-sex marriage was legalized by the Ontario Court of Appeal. The couple wants to adopt a child, but their Ontario marriage is not legally recognized in Nova Scotia.
While Premier John Hamm has said the province will not oppose the couples in court, "Nova Scotia has refused to proactively begin issuing (marriage) licences," Foreman said.
Despite the federal government's position, municipal clerks and provincial registrars could still refuse to issue marriage licences, which could, in itself, lead to litigation, Elliott said.
Cotler told lawyers at the conference that while Ottawa now supports same-sex marriage, it decided to refer the issue to the Supreme Court so those opposed to the concept can have their day in court and "it can never be said in this country they never had the chance to debate the whole question."
No fewer than 18 interest groups are expected to intervene in the case.
On the issue of divorce, last month the justice department conceded that excluding gays and lesbians from the definition of "spouse" in Canada's Divorce Act is also unconstitutional.
The concession came in a letter to a Toronto lawyer who represents a lesbian seeking a divorce from her same-sex spouse.
In addition to a divorce, the couple launched a constitutional challenge to the law, saying it violates the Charter of Rights.