Equality Under the Law: Same-Sex Marriage in Canada

Pamela Pizarro

Same-sex couples have the right to legally marry across Canada; this right is linked to sexual and reproductive health and rights through the core principle that every individual is free to love and be with another individual of their choice.

In Canada, one of the main parts of our constitution is our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This charter is intended to outline the rights and freedoms of every citizen and protect them from undue discrimination due to age, race, sex, and most recently sexual orientation. It was using this charter, which protects each and every Canadian, that a challenge to Canada's marriage laws first took place.

As of July 20th, 2005, same-sex couples have the right to legally marry across Canada. However it was several years before that groups working toward equality began the campaign to change Canada's Civil Marriage Act to include the recognition and the right of same-sex couples to marry. This is different from just recognizing same-sex marriages as "civil unions" because "civil union is not equality. The only reason to use a word other than ‘marriage' is to symbolically exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage".

As recently as December of 2006, Members of the Canadian Parliament (MP) were still debating the definition of marriage. Some Conservative, and so-called Liberal, members of parliament wanted to define marriage as exclusively a union between a man and a women. Although a law proclaiming same-sex marriages law had already been approved by a pervious parliament, the new Conservative government wanted a "free-vote" (or MPs allowed to vote with or against their parties) on whether or not the issue should be re-opened. Thankfully by an overwhelming majority the motion was once again struck down and Prime Minister Stephen Harper "considered the issue settled".

So why is same-sex marriage linked to the much broader idea of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)? Well mainly because one of the core principles of SRHR is the idea that every individual is free to love and be with another individual of their choice. How many times has one of our friends ended up in a relationship with someone that we don't like? However not many of us would go so far as to tell our friend that they should no longer be with that person. Therefore even if you don't agree with same-sex couples or marriages, you should still be opposed to any sort of discrimination. Discrimination based upon sexual orientation is unacceptable as we are all entitled to the same basic human rights, including the one to love and marry whom we choose.

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The radical religious right has attempted to frame the discrimination of same-sex marriages as a freedom of religion. However religious institutions are protected under the same chapter that guarantees equal rights to all couples. The law does not require that religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriages perform such ceremonies, but it does open the door for those who would like to ordain same-sex marriages. The law even says that religious institutions are free from even renting space to perform a marriage that they do not support.

Increasingly religious freedom arguments have been used to justify everything from discrimination to denying women the right to access contraceptives. In the spectrum of Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, everything is connected, because fundamentally it is the right of everyone to make a choice in regards to their sexuality.

For more information on Canada's Same-Sex Marriage Laws visit Canadians for Equal Marriage.

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