Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Canada: Court ruling favors gay marriage

Fri Jul 12, 8:44 PM ET
Gay.com / PlanetOut.com Network

Canada took a major step toward legally recognizing same-sex couples on Friday when an Ontario court ruled that to do otherwise is unconstitutional.

A three-judge panel of the Ontario Superior Court decided that granting marriage licenses only to heterosexual couples violates Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. According to the Associated Press, the court also ordered the federal Parliament to officially redefine "marriage" within the next two years.

Current federal law defines marriage as "a union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others."

The provincial government is expected to appeal the decision within 15 days, with a final decision likely from the Supreme Court of Canada. Similar cases in two other provinces are also expected to reach the country's high court.

Gay rights advocates within Canada and abroad hailed the court's decision as a major victory.

"We're no longer second-class citizens in this country, and the time has come for a change," Joe Varnell, one of the plaintiffs who sued the Ontario government for the right to marry another man, said after the ruling. "My relationship is validated, and nobody can say we're not a real family anymore."

"It's time for the federal government to catch up to society, and respect the court's decision and the Constitution," said John Fisher, head of Canada's largest gay rights organization, EGALE.

In the United States, same-sex marriage proponents welcomed the ruling and hoped for a ripple effect.

"I think it's one more step toward the inevitable," said David Buckel, senior staff attorney and Marriage Project coordinator for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund. "The day will come when same-sex couples will have equality in marriage in the United States."

"More and more judges are understanding there's a difference between the religious institution of marriage and the legal reality," said Joshua Friedes, political director for the Freedom to Marry Coalition of Massachusetts (FTM).

FTM is currently fighting a proposed amendment to the Massachusetts Constitution that would forbid granting marriage-like rights to same-sex couples.

Friedes told the Gay.com/PlanetOut.com Network that the Canadian ruling could make it easier for his group to lobby state legislators and encourage them to "keep up with our northern neighbors."


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