The right to be married regardless of the spouses’ sex is a universal one in Canada. Persons of the same sex have been able to marry each other since 2002 in Ontario, when the Ontario Superior Court declared the legal stipulation that marriage be between a man and a woman to be unconstitutional. In 2003 the Superior Court’s decision was affirmed by the Ontario Court of Appeal.*
In 2005 the Canadian Parliament passed the Civil Marriage Act, defining marriage as a union between “two persons,” as opposed to “a man and a woman.” It received royal assent the day after it was passed and was promptly proclaimed into law.^
South of the border in the U.S., things are quite different. The federal government doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, but 8 states permit marriage between persons of the same sex. There are also a few states that allow civil union for same-sex couples but don’t recognize same-sex marriage. The remaining states prohibit marriage between persons of the same sex.
Below is a summary update on what’s happening in the U.S. on this topic.
Maryland and Washington State Legalize Same-Sex Marriage
Governor Martin O’Malley signed the bill allowing same-sex marriage in the state of Maryland into law today. The law will take effect in January 2013, making Maryland the 8th state to allow same-sex marriage in the U.S.
Earlier last month, the governor of Washington state, Chris Gregoire, signed a bill allowing same-sex marriage into law on February 14, Valentine’s Day. That law will take effect in June 2012.
N.J. Governor Vows to Veto Same-Sex Marriage Bill
The signing of the two bills in Maryland and Washington proved to be a bittersweet victory to those supporting same-sex marriage. In New Jersey, a bill that would permit same-sex marriage was passed in the state legislature on February 13, but the state governor vowed to veto the bill.
Legal Dispute over Ban on Same-Sex Marriage Takes a Turn
The legal battle over same-sex marriage recently took a turn in favour of the supporters of same-sex marriage. In 2010 the California ballot proposition known as “Proposition 8″ was passed by voters in the state, amending the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. Then, in early February 2012, a federal appeal court panel of judges ruled that the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, affirming a lower court’s ruling.
Judge Reinhardt wrote the majority opinion, relying on the Supreme Court’s 1996 decision Romer v. Evans, which forbids the government from singling out a class of individuals (in this case, same-sex couples) for “disfavored legal status” without sufficient grounds.+
The judge noted that Proposition 8 wrongly took away legal rights that had already been conferred to same-sex couples, whose marriage licences had been duly issued by the government.
Judge Reinhardt found the arguments of opponents of same-sex marriage insufficient to meet the Romer test.
The case may proceed to a review by the full 9th circuit court, or it may head directly to the U.S. Supreme Court.
*Halpern et al. v. Canada, (2003) 25 O.R. (3d) 161, 2003 CanLII 26403, 172 ONCA 276; aff’g (2002) 60 O.R. (3d) 321 (Div. Ct.)
^S.C. 2005, c. 33
+517 U.S. 620 (1996)
This blog is provided for news summary reporting purposes. It is not legal advice and should not be regarded as such. The law may have changed since the publication of this article. The writer is licensed to practise law in Ontario and not in any other jurisdiction, including those mentioned in this blog.