Toronto has performed same sex marriages since the late 1990s and it became part of federal legislation in 2005 under then Prime Minister Paul Martin (Liberal Party.) Since then 15,000 same-sex marriages have taken place in Canada, 5000 of them citizens of the US or other countries.
Documents from the court case of the couple seeking the divorce reveals that the position of the Department of Justice, under Harper, is that couples can only legally divorce here if they live in the country for one year prior to the divorce and that their marriage is legal here only if it is also legal in their home state or country. This effectively ends the legality of almost all of the 5000 marriages performed, marriages Canada provided licenses for, licenses the government is now refusing to honour.
This goes far beyond an embarrassment to Canada's reputation in regards to same sex rights. Many of these couples used those licenses given to prove married status, to their employers, doctors or just among their community. It is unclear at this point what effect this reversal in federal policy will have on those procedures but it is likely many rights granted due to the official marriage status will now be dissolved. Also at risk are child custody, spousal support and asset division.
This is a shameful act for Canada to do. We granted these marriage licenses with no mention of any need of these new regulations in order to be officially recognized. We should continue to operate under the good faith in which they were granted.
As for Harper, he is claiming little knowledge of the case or the Justice Department's position, a claim many find ridiculous and unlikely. After the immediate uproar both here and all over the world, the Minister of Justice has promised to look into the case and clarify the federal position regarding the the dissolution of these marriages. But he did not address, nor has anyone from the Harper government, the issue of whether these marriages are legal at all. Given how hotly contested the legislation was in 2005, with many Liberals leaving party ranks to vote with the Conservatives against the issue, and with the Conservatives now having a majority, this has become a precarious moment for gay rights in Canada and a major black eye to our reputation as a land of equality.
Oh, and next up on the Harper government agenda? Abortion