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Chronology of Same Sex Marriage

History of Same-sex marriage in Canada, Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act

On February 1, 2005, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler introduced Bill C-38 , a bill to redefine marriage for civil purposes as being the lawful union of “two persons.” The bill passed second reading in the House of Commons on May 4, 2005, and was sent to a special legislative committee on Bill C-38 for study.

The EFC appeared before the committee on May 18. Read the EFC's written submission. See EFC's press release (includes the text of oral comments by Bruce Clemenger and Janet Epp Buckingham).

The committee reported back to the House of Commons on June 16, and recommended two amendments to the Bill, intended to offer additional protection for religious freedom in areas of federal jurisdiction. During Report Stage, a further amendment was approved, providing some protection for charitable status. However, only provincial governments can protect religious freedom for anything related to solemnization of marriage, so the amendments are somewhat symbolic.

The Bill was passed by the House of Commons on June 28, 2005. Read the EFC's press release, issued when the Bill passed in the House of Commons. Find out how your MP voted on the bill.

After passing in the Commons, the Bill was sent to the Senate. The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs held three days of hearings on the Bill, July 12-14, and recommended it be voted on without any further amendments.

Janet Epp Buckingham and Bruce Clemenger appeared before the Senate Committee on July 13. Read the EFC’s written submission to the Senate.

Bill C-38 passed in the Senate on July 19, 2005, by a vote of 47-21, with three abstentions. It received Royal Assent on July 20, 2005, becoming law. Read the EFC’s press release.

How did we get here?

Over the last two decades, gays and lesbians have sought equality rights and legal recognition under the Charter of Rights and freedoms. Through a series of legal challenges brought by gays and lesbians, Canadian courts ruled that the Charter included protection from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and granted gay and lesbian couples equal treatment with opposite-sex common-law couples. See this Chronology (updated September 2005).

Eventually, this led to gays and lesbians directly challenging the definition of marriage, arguing that the heterosexual definition excluded same-sex couples, and therefore violated the Charter. The Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia Courts of Appeal ruled that the historic definition of marriage as the “voluntary union for life of one man and one woman” offended the Charter because it excludes gays and lesbians.

The federal government, which had intervened in support of the traditional definition of marriage at the lower courts, refused to appeal these cases. Instead, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada proposed Bill C-38, legislation defining marriage as union of “two persons”, and referred the legislation to the Supreme Court of Canada (the Marriage Reference). At every stage in this march toward the legalization of same-sex marriage, the EFC intervened to argue for the historic definition of marriage. Our written legal arguments in these cases are all available online:

British Columbia: Supreme CourtCourt of Appeal   
Ontario: Divisional CourtCourt of Appeal         
Quebec: Court of Appeal         
Supreme Court of Canada: Marriage Reference
To view the EFC’s Summary of the Supreme Court Decision in the Marriage Reference, click here.

Chronology of Same Sex Marriage in Canada

March 18, 1999 – In M. v. H. Supreme Court requires that same-sex couples be treated the same in law as common-law heterosexual couples, but says that this ruling does not affect marriage.

June 8, 1999 – Parliament votes 216 to 55 in favour of a motion affirming the heterosexual definition of marriage.

April 11, 2000 – Bill C-23 grants same-sex partners the same federal benefits as common-law heterosexual partners with interpretive clause that it does not change the definition of marriage.

May/June 2000 – Ontario and BC marriage cases start.

October 2001 – The B.C. Supreme Court upholds the heterosexual definition of marriage.

July 12, 2002 – The Ontario Divisional Court rules that the heterosexual definition of marriage is unconstitutional. The court gives the federal government 2 years to change the law.

September 2002 – The Quebec Superior Court follows the Ontario ruling.

November 2002 – Justice Minister Martin Cauchon refers the legal recognition of same-sex unions to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights.

April 2003 – The House of Commons Justice Committee holds cross-country hearings on marriage and the recognition of same-sex unions, and is to report back to Parliament in June.

May 1, 2003 – The BC Court of Appeal follows the Ontario Divisional Court ruling. The Court calls on Parliament to pass legislation to allow same-sex marriage by July 12, 2004.

June 10, 2003 – The Ontario Court of Appeal releases its decision in the case of Halpern v. Attorney General of Canada. The Court redefines marriage as being between “two persons.”

June 12, 2003 – The Justice Committee votes by a margin of one to recommend to the government that they not appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal ruling.

June 17, 2003 –Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announces that the government will not appeal the Ontario Court of Appeal decision.

July 8, 2003 – B.C. Court of Appeal sets aside an earlier restriction that would have suspended the redefinition of marriage until July 2004, thereby allowing same-sex couples to legally marry.

July 17, 2003 – Minister of Justice Martin Cauchon files a reference with the Supreme Court of Canada seeking their opinion on draft legislation to redefine marriage.

January 28, 2004 – Justice Minister Cotler adds a fourth question to the Supreme Court Reference.

March 19, 2004 – Quebec becomes the third province to redefine marriage.

July 14, 2004 – A court in the Yukon Territories changes the meaning of marriage in that territory.

September 14, 2004 – A lesbian couple in Ontario is granted a divorce, after an Ontario court declares unconstitutional the opposite sex definition of spouse in the Divorce Act.

September 16, 2004 – Manitoba courts redefine marriage in that province.

September 24, 2004 – The Nova Scotia Supreme Court ruled that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

December 9, 2004 – The Supreme Court of Canada rules that Parliament may redefine marriage but does not rule that it must. The Charter protects clergy from being compelled to solemnize or participate in wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples.

December 21, 2004 – Newfoundland courts redefine marriage in that province.

February 1, 2005 – First Reading in the House of Commons of Bill C-38, “The Civil Marriage Act” (Same-sex Marriage Legislation).

July 20, 2005 – Bill C-38 receives Royal Assent and becomes law in Canada.

Issue: Marriage & Family

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Protecting Religious Freedom 
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Helpful Links

Marriage Declaration signed by 50 Evangelical, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox Christian as well as Muslim Leaders in defense of the traditional definition of marriage. Disponible en francais.


EFC Statement "What Is Marriage?"

Developing Church Policies on Marriage Handbook

EFC President Responds to Civil Marriage Act

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