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BC Government Petitions Court to Allow Same Sex Marriage
EGALE launches similar action

THE BC government announced Thursday that rather than officially rejecting a marriage licence application from a same sex couple it will refer the matter to the courts for clarification.

Previous News
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Attorney General Andrew Petter announced in a statement that the province will file a petition in BC Supreme Court - the trial level of the judicial system - seeking a declaration that same sex couples can marry.

The action is in response to lesbian couple Cynthia Callahan and Judy Lightwater asking the province's Vital Statistics Office on May 26th for a marriage licence.  Rather than denying them one, the Executive Director of that office asked the BC Ministry of the Attorney General to review the application.

The legal advice provided to the Executive Director confirmed that federal common law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but said that this definition would likely be revised by the courts in light of recent decisions under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Canadians cannot be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation," Petter said in his statement.  "In light of this, the federal common-law prohibition on same-sex marriages may well not survive Charter scrutiny."

Continued Petter, "Given the uncertainty of the law and the importance of the issue, I believe we should seek guidance from the courts before making a determination that could otherwise deny people their constitutional rights."

The petition will also refer to the 1998 application made by Murray Warren and Peter Cook which was rejected.  That couple announced in a statement on July 13th that they intended to file a complaint with the BC Human Rights Commission.

"We would have preferred the Attorney General to have issued us with a marriage licence - which we believe he's obliged to do - but at least he has turned to the courts," said Warren in a statement today.  "Mr. Petter has demonstrated more courage than any other Attorney General in the country by recognizing the need to establish the rights of same gender couples as required by the Charter of Rights," he added.

Petter urged the federal government again yesterday to take the lead in amending the law in order to avoid a lengthy court battle.

"This issue has constitutional implications, but we would much prefer that it be resolved without prolonged court action," Petter said.  "The definition of marriage is a federal constitutional responsibility, and the federal government could resolve the matter simply by updating the marriage law to end its discrimination against gays and lesbians."

EGALE names BC, feds, in action

In a technical twist EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) has named the BC Vital Statistics Office in addition to the federal government in its similar action announced yesterday as well.

But it's just a technicality, assured lawyer Cynthia Petersen, and a friendly necessity because that office is the 'point' for not yet granting the licence.

EGALE, together with Callahan and Lightwater, are seeking a writ from the BC Supreme Court, Petersen told gayottawanow.com.  They're asking the Court to declare that the Office's failure to issue a licence is unconstitutional and to further strike down whatever legal impediments may exist to prevent the Office from allowing the two women to marry.

And to actually order the BC Vital Statistics Office to grant the marriage licence, she added.

Said Callahan - an EGALE board member - in a statement, "The [BC] Deputy Attorney General has assured us that if a licence could have been legally issued by the Director of Vital Statistics, we would have one by now."

Added EGALE Executive Director John Fisher, "The BC Government's commitment to supporting equal marriage rights for same-sex couples is historic.  This is the first time a Canadian government has ever expressed the view that same-sex couples should have an equal right to marry.  We expect that over the next few years other governments will also support our right to full equality."

Laurie Arron, Chair of EGALE's Equal Marriage Committee, added further that "the exclusion of same-gender relationships from marriage speaks volumes.  It sends a loud and clear message that our relationships are inferior, [and] are not worthy of the term 'marriage.'  This hurtful message must change."

In a similar move in May, the City of Toronto stated that it would request guidance from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice regarding the marriage licence application made by Crown Attorney Michael Leshner and his partner, rather than outright reject it.

But in that case the City is not petitioning for a positive result, explained Petersen.  "The City of Toronto is taking a neutral position - [just] asking the courts for guidance," she said.