On July 23, 2001, the Supreme Court of British Columbia will hear a landmark challenge to Canada’s marriage laws, brought by 3 same-sex couples (the "BC Partners Group") and 5 further couples together with EGALE, the national lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered equality rights organization.
Two and half years ago one couple, and last year, another couple sought to obtain marriage licenses from the BC Director of Vital Statistics, but were rejected. The BC Government issued a written statement, however, expressing its support for same-sex marriage and calling upon the federal government to enact laws explicitly permitting same-sex couples to marry. Under the constitution, the federal government has jurisdiction over who can marry, while the provincial governments have responsibility for administering the law.
The BC Government issued legal proceedings against the federal government, seeking the right to marry same-sex couples, and claiming that the restriction of marriage to heterosexuals violates the right to equality enshrined in the Charter of Rights. Subsequently, two more petitions were initiated. One was brought by EGALE and five same-sex couples, Melinda Roy & Tanya Chambers, Robin Roberts & Diana Denny, Tess Healy & Wendy Young, Shane McCloskey & David Shortt, and Bob Peacock & Lloyd Thornhill. Another was brought by the BC Partners, Elizabeth & Dawn Barbeau, Murray Warren & Peter Cook, and Jane Hamilton & Joy Masuhara. The three BC partners have also issued a human rights complaint against the BC Government.
Lawyers for the EGALE group are Joe Arvay and Cynthia Petersen; for the BC Partners are barbara findlay and Kathleen Lahey. In November of last year, the BC Supreme Court made an order that the three sets of proceedings be heard together, and that evidence in one hearing was evidence in the others.
The new BC Liberal Government has recently announced that it will be withdrawing its legal action, purportedly on the basis that it does not want to be in the position of suing the federal government. However, because of the court’s November order, all the evidence filed by the Attorney General can be used in the case which stares Monday and is scheduled for two weeks.
"Most Canadians are ahead of their governments in understanding that full equality for gays and lesbians must include the right to marry," said barbara findlay. "We are confident that the courts, which have consistently held that equality for gays and lesbians means treating our partnerships like those of heterosexual people, will uphold our rights in this case."
"Without equal access to the institution of marriage, our ability to celebrate our love and our lives on equal terms with our heterosexual counterparts is undermined," said John Fisher, Executive Director of EGALE. "All lesbians, gays and bisexuals, whether we wish to marry or not, are denied a fundamental personal choice. This case is also about what kind of Canada we want to live in—one where we value and respect all citizens equally, or one where our laws are founded on intolerance and discrimination?"
A recent Leger Marketing poll demonstrated that over 65% of Canadians support granting same-sex couples the equal right to marry. Companion litigation to the BC marriage case will be heard in Ontario in the fall; and in Quebec.
For further information contact:
Craig Maynard at (604) 861-3765;
John Fisher, Executive Director, EGALE: 613-291-5187 (cell)
Egale Canada ©2007