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Busted Halo
feature: sex & relationships
August 17th, 2003

Married in Ontario (and Beyond)

Canada Brings Gay Marriage to the World - Is the World Ready?

 
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By all accounts, Gay Pride Week in Toronto was different this year. Normally, the festivities draw thousands of tourists to the capital of Ontario and the annual parade?that took place on Sunday June 29?can attract hundreds of thousands. This year, however, tourism was down. SARS paranoia, it seems, still spooks Toronto’s image. Hotels normally filled with Gay Pride revelers remained half empty.

It’s not just SARS, though, that has changed Toronto’s Pride celebration: it’s marriage. On June 10, the Ontario Court of Appeals ruled that the province’s marriage laws were unconstitutional because they prevented same-sex partners from marrying. While the court’s ruling follows similar judgments by courts in other Canadian provinces?British Columbia and Qu ?bec?Ontario’s was the first to change the law instantly. Within minutes of the ruling, the first legal same-sex marriage in Canada took place. Within days, over 100 same-sex partners had married in Ontario.

The Pride connection
And, now, Pride Week. Overall tourism might be down but Toronto’s City Hall remained on high alert. Unlike other jurisdictions which permit same-sex marriage?Belgium and the Netherlands?Ontario does not require residency for those seeking to obtain a marriage license and marry. This means anyone, Canadian or foreign, can come to Ontario and get married. With the start of Pride Week, Toronto’s City Hall employees expected to work overtime, marrying as many same-sex couples as wanted to be wed.

Which is problematic, especially for folks who like to think that what happens in Canada can’t affect the world.

In Canada, all couples married in Ontario?same-sex or not?are legally married. But what of, say, an American same-sex couple married in Ontario? Would their union be legally recognized once they return home? Recently, a same-sex couple from China was married in Ontario. It is unlikely that bureaucrats in Beijing have enough paperwork to process that red-tape marital conundrum.

So, pundits are watching Toronto’s Pride Week. If even a handful of foreign same-sex couples get married this week then foreign governments might have a problem. Ontario’s no longer exporting SARS; it’s exporting a revolution.

Editor’s Note:
Same-sex marriage is against the traditional teaching of the Catholic Church which defines marriage as a partnership of equals between a man and a woman for their unity as a couple and for the procreation and education.

Coming home to you?
Of course, the revolution’s a civil, legal matter. In Ontario, religious groups cannot be forced to perform weddings they don’t condone. Still, what if a legally married same-sex couple was to ask their pastor, rabbi, or imam for marital counseling? What are religious communities to do with married same-sex partners in their midst?

It’s the secular world, though, that should anticipate quicker challenges. Consider the ramifications of a legal marriage: name changes, spousal rights, adoption, divorce?especially divorce. After all, married-in-Ontario doesn’t guarantee a divorce in Ontario. (Those seeking a divorce in Canada must live in Canada.) In short, Ontario’s same-sex marriages promise to spark legal headaches in lands far and wide for years to come.

Which means that this year’s Gay Pride Week in Toronto will be marked with more than just rainbow flags and street parties. The confetti’s flying in Ontario. Is the world ready?

 
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The Author : Sue Birnie
Sue Birnie writes from Ontario in Canada.
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