The new millennium began with debates surrounding the issue of same-sex marriage.
Civil Marriage v. Registered Partnerships
One of the problems with allowing same-sex couples legal marriage was the definition of marriage itself. Gays and lesbians had been excluded from the institution of marriage because marriage had been defined as a union between a man and a woman. But, because marriage had not included same-sex couples in the past, did not explain why it couldn’t be the case.
The debates brought identified three options:
- Maintain the status quo by legislting the ban on same-sex civil marraige
- Legislating opposite sex marriages by adding a civil registry that would provide both same-sex and opposite sex couples with the possibility of entering into a relationship that is called something other than “marriage” with rights obligations equal to civil marriage
- Leave marriage to the religions
Under Canadian human rights law, “separate but equal” institutions like domestic partnerships are not truly equal. The only reason to use a word other than “marriage” is to exclude same-sex couples from civil marriage. Registration schemes, instead of allowing same-sex couples to marry, would create a second-class category of relationship. Same-sex couples would still be excluded from the primary institution for celebrating relationships.
In 2005 Bill C-38, the Civil Marriage Act, ensured the equality of marriage for same-sex couples. Some of the benefits that were extended to same-sex couples in marriage are listed below. While many of these were available as a part of common-law relationships, they varied from province to province.
- bereavement leave for the death of a spouse’s family member
- partners in public sector allowed pension benefits
- partners can make medical decisions for incapacitated partners
- adopt the child of same-sex partner
- can inherit estate if partner dies without a will
- treated the same as opposite-sex couples with regards to spousal support
- matrimonial property division and inheritance
- insurance and pension benefits
- allowed spousal support if marriage ends
- presumption of parental rights