Same-Sex Marriage in Canada

In 2003, Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces to legalize same-sex marriage. The federal Civil Marriage Act came into force on 25 July 2005, making same-sex marriage legal across Canada. Canada became the fourth country to permit same-sex marriages, after the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003) and Spain (2005). Since then, all provinces in Canada have recognized same-sex marriages. Marriage itself falls under federal jurisdiction in Canada. But the provinces regulate the solemnization of marriage (the formal ceremony that is either civil or religious). They also grant marriage licenses. The Supreme Court has ruled that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a religious official cannot be legally compelled to perform same-sex marriages if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.

In 2003, Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces to legalize same-sex marriage. The federal Civil Marriage Act came into force on 25 July 2005, making same-sex marriage legal across Canada. Canada became the fourth country to permit same-sex marriages, after the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003) and Spain (2005). Since then, all provinces in Canada have recognized same-sex marriages. Marriage itself falls under federal jurisdiction in Canada. But the provinces regulate the solemnization of marriage (the formal ceremony that is either civil or religious). They also grant marriage licenses. The Supreme Court has ruled that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a religious official cannot be legally compelled to perform same-sex marriages if it is contrary to their religious beliefs.


Rainbow graffiti Montreal

Relevant Statistics for Same-Sex Couples

In 2001, Statistics Canada began collecting information about same-sex partnerships. At that time, about 0.5 per cent of all Canadian couples reported living in same-sex unions.

Same-sex marriage became legal on 20 July 2005. The 2006 census was the first to collect data on legally married same-sex couples. It showed there were more than 45,000 declared same-sex couples in the country; 16.5 per cent of those were married.

By the time of the 2016 census, there were 72,880 declared same-sex couples — 0.9 per cent of the total number of couples. Of those same-sex couples, 33.4 per cent were married. That represents a tripling in the number of same-sex marriages across the country in a ten-year period.


Legalization of Marriage

In 2003, Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces to legalize the licensing of same-sex marriage. On 20 July 2005, the federal Civil Marriage Act came into force, making same-sex marriage legal across Canada. This made Canada the fourth country to permit same-sex marriages, after the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003) and Spain (2005).

Same-sex marriages became legal in all Canadian provinces on the following dates:

Ontario

10 June 2003

British Columbia

8 July 2003

Quebec

19 March 2004

Yukon

14 July 2004

Manitoba

16 September 2004

Nova Scotia

24 September 2004

Saskatchewan

5 November 2004

Newfoundland and Labrador

21 December 2004

New Brunswick

23 June 2005

Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut, and Northwest Territories

20 July 2005 (Civil Marriage Act)


The change permitting same-sex marriages required that definitions for husband and wife be changed to spouse. The Income Tax Act also replaced the term natural parent with legal parent. This ensures that upon divorce, support payments would include the children of both opposite-sex and same-sex couples. (See Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada; Taxation in Canada.)

Marriage itself falls under federal jurisdiction in Canada. However, the provinces regulate the solemnization of marriage (the formal ceremony that is either civil or religious). They also grant marriage licenses.

Although some religious denominations endorse same-sex marriage, others do not. The Supreme Court has ruled that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a religious official cannot be legally compelled to perform same-sex marriages if it is contrary to their religious beliefs. At the same time, governments do have a duty to provide access to civil marriage (as opposed to a religious marriage ceremony) for those same-sex couples who want to marry. (See Marriage in Canada.)


Popularity

Initially, it was difficult to determine the full number of same-sex marriages in particular regions. This was because some of the provinces did not specify, in their licensing documents, the genders of the people getting married. However, some provinces did collect this information. During British Columbia’s first year of legalized same-sex marriages (2003–04), 3.5 per cent of the marriages were same-sex marriages; of these, 54.5 per cent were female couples. More than one-quarter of same-sex marriages (27.6 per cent) included women who had previously been married; 14.2 per cent included men who had had previously been married.

In 2003, Canada was the only country in the world that allowed same-sex marriages between people who were not residents. (See Canadian Citizenship.) During that year, five per cent of the same-sex marriages involved non-residents; the vast majority (95 per cent), however, did live in Canada.


Public Opinion

Public support for same-sex marriage in Canadian increased from 41 per cent in 1997 to 74 per cent in 2017, according to the polling firm CROP Inc. As of 2017, support was highest in Quebec (80 per cent) and lowest in Alberta (68 per cent). However, a survey conducted by Research Co. in 2019 found that overall support in Canada had slipped to 64 per cent; 15 per cent believed gay couples should be limited to civil unions, while 10 per cent felt they should not have “any kind of legal recognition.”

See also these Maclean’s articles: Gay Marriage Debate; Impending Same-Sex Marriage Legislation; Feds Unveil Same-Sex Marriage Law; Canadian Politicians Ask the Judges to Decide on Same-Sex Marriage; Supreme Court Redefines Family.


Further Reading

  • Pamela Dickey Young, Religion, Sex and Politics: Christian Churches and Same-Sex Marriage in Canada (2012).
  • David Rayside and Clyde Wilcox eds., Faith, Politics, and Sexual Diversity in Canada and the United States (2011).
  • Julien D. Payne and Marilyn A. Payne, Canadian Family Law, 4th ed. (2011)
  • Sylvain Larocque, Gay Marriage: The Story of a Canadian Social Revolution (2006).
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