American Same Sex Couples That Wed in Canada

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Photo taken by Kurt Löwenstein Educational Center International Team

Canada has been in the hot seat this past week for apparently nullifying same sex marriages that were performed in Canada if the couples’ home laws do not recognize these unions. Many American homosexual couples, and couples from other parts of the world, have come to Canada since July 2005 believing they were legally marrying.

On Thursday, spouses found out that their unions were potentially not legally recognized, including Dan Savage and his partner. Savage commented, “There will be lawsuits, time and money will be wasted, oceans of ink and pixels will be spilled, before this issue—the full civil equality of gays and lesbians—winds up before the Supreme Court of Canada”.

Yesterday, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson of Canada’s federal government issued a statement hoping to appease those concerned about their marital status. He stated, “The confusion and pain resulting from this gap is completely unfair to those who are affected. I want to make it clear that, in the government’s view, those marriages are legal.” The gap he refers to is when the Liberal government was in power in 2005 (Stephen Harper of the Conservatives party is currently Prime Minister), they did not consider the issue that couples had to live within the country for at least one year before filing for divorce.

What sparked this whole controversy and uncertainty was the marriage of two American women who wed in Toronto, 2005; they recently tried to file for divorce. The couple, both in their early 30s, were told by an attorney for the Canadian Department of Justice they could not file for divorce because they were not legally married in the first place (their Florida or England residences do not recognize same-sex marriage). Their Toronto lawyer, Martha McCarthy, said, “It is offensive to their dignity and human rights to suggest they weren’t married or that they have something that is a nullity.”

However, Ms. McCarthy commented that she is now confident that her clients, and other American couples who have married in Canada, are still legally married after Justice Minister Nicholson’s statement made Friday.

Canada became the fourth country to legalize same-sex marriages. Currently homosexual couples are also able to legally marry in Argentina, Belgium, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain and Sweden. In the United States, same-sex couples can legally marry in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Iowa and the District of Columbia. Additionally, Hawaii, Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island recognize same-sex common law couples, meaning they are granted the same state rights given to heterosexual partners in civil unions.

The issue of legalizing or not recognizing same-sex marriages is the epitome of a current and evolving public policy issue. Do these types of questions and matters fascinate you? You might consider completing a public policy degree, a form of higher education that has you questioning, analyzing and even changing legislation and the political arena. Such a degree, or a political science degree, can lead to a range of careers, from professions in local or international affairs to homeland security, healthcare, emergency management and criminal justice.

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