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Congratulations Canada:  You're 'Common Law!'
New Canadian equality a reality

"In Her Majesty's name, the Honourable the Deputy of Her Excellency the Governor General doth assent to these Bills."

The Usher of the Black Rod procession returns from summoning MPs from the House of Commons
AND with those words - Bang! - gay and lesbian couples cohabiting for more than one year from sea to sea to sea in this country became 'Common Law' under federal law.

And received an extraordinary Canada Day gift from the Chretien government.

The ceremony of tradition - Royal Assent - began in Parliament yesterday as the Senate 'rose' at 6 PM.  Having completed debate on all bills presented to it this session, final approval on those passed was required from the crown's representative in Canada, the Governor General, before it could break for the summer.

As Her Excellency Adrienne Clarkson had been scheduled to be in Prince Edward Island this week, the Honourable Louis LeBel, Puisne Judge of the Supreme Court of Canada, had been deputized and authorized to exercise all powers of the Governor General short of dissolving Parliament.

After the Honourable the Deputy of Her Excellency the Governor General arrived and was seated at the foot of the Throne the Honourable the Speaker commanded the Usher of the Black Rod to proceed to the House of Commons and summon the Members of Parliament (MPs) to the Senate Chamber.

It is tradition that when the MPs do proceed as summoned they proceed very slowly and casually - so as not to appear to be kowtowing to the 'nobility.'

MPs came so slowly yesterday evening that they did not come at all!  But this was because the House had adjourned for the summer a couples of weeks ago.

Upon the Usher of the Black Rod and her procession returning to the Senate Chamber and taking up position, the names of all bills passed by both chambers of Parliament this session were read.  Royal Assent was pronounced by the Clerk of the Senate with the words above.

A long, long way for Canadian couples to have come in achieving equality (short of marriage) for their relationships and fairness in how those unions are treated by society.

From the demand of an Ontario woman in the early 90's that her partner of 12-years provide alimony upon the relationship's break-up, to the striking down of Ontario's heterosexist definition of common law 'spouse' in 1999 by the Supreme Court of Canada, the repeated efforts and courage of the plaintiff and the many lawyers and supporters involved are what really achieved this new Canadian equality.

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The Liberal government's compliance with the ruling came in the form of the equality bill - C-23 - which is now an Act.  And through visceral debates in the House of Commons, protests on Parliament Hill, allegations that it would be the death of marriage - if not the cause of complete social break-down, and hatred shouted across the Senate Committee room by religious representatives, the principle of fairness in Canada prevailed.

The Act will forever be remembered for the definition of marriage inserted by Minister of Justice Anne McLellan in the 11th hour of the Commons Committee stage.

The amendment caused serious discussion of whether the Act risked later being declared unconstitutional, a potential scenario remarkable in its perversity.  It further caused both supporters and opponents of the proposed legislation to become displeased and argue over the meaning of the amendment.

On April 4th, shortly before third reading in the Commons, New Democrat Svend Robinson was reported by the National Post as no longer supporting the bill because it's 'about marriage.'  Backbench Liberal Tom Wappel, who had opposed it all along, reportedly came to support it because the amendment made the bill 'no longer about marriage' - a position he later reversed.  Bloc Quebecois Member Real Menard had stated that the bill was never about marriage, still wasn't, and supported it.  Justice Minister Anne McLellan agreed but made the amendment 'in the interest of certainty,' which apparently hadn't worked.  Garry Breitkreuz of the (new) Canadian Alliance had told the press the bill was about the 'death of marriage' except when it was about 'buggery'.  And his party's Eric Lowther was still stuck on two men or women having 'conjugal relations.'

In any event, the issue of same sex marriage appears now to be headed for the courts.  If so, it may reduce the significance of the infamous amendment 'Clause 1.1.'

Surprisingly, of people in Ottawa approached yesterday about half questioned on the street and in mainstream venues didn't know anything about the omnibus bill, nor did about one-fifth in gay and lesbian venues.

In the months and years to come, one other ramification of the Act could well be a significant transfer of wealth to the legal and financial communities.

But today, on the eve of Canada's birthday, celebrations are doubly in order.

Congratulations gay and lesbian cohabiting couples Canada!