Canadian Government Says Thousands of Same-Sex Marriages by Foreigners are Not Legal

Gays couples who wed in Canada are not legally married there if their home state or government does not recognize same-sex marriage, the government is arguing in a court case:

CanadaThe Globe and Mail reported Thursday that the government is contending in a Toronto court case that non-Canadians gays and lesbians who have been married here since 2004 are only considered married under this country's laws if gay marriage is also recognized in their home country or state.

The paper is basing its report on court documents filed in a Toronto test case. It was launched by a lesbian couple seeking a divorce. They were wed in Toronto in 2005, and cannot be identified under a court order.

A Department of Justice lawyer reportedly argued the marriage was not legal in Canada because the couple could not have been legally married in Florida or England, where the two live.

The Globe & Mail adds: "The government’s hard line has cast sudden doubt on the rights and legal status of couples who wed in Canada after a series of court decisions opened the floodgates to same-sex marriage. The mechanics of determining issues such as tax status, employment benefits and immigration have been thrown into legal limbo."

More than 5,000 couples from outside of Canada have been married there since same-sex marriage was legalized in 2004.


  1. John says

    Canadian Courts will never accept this argument. Embarrassing for Canada, but the government lawyer’s position will not be allowed to stand.

  2. Strepsi says

    Even though there are many things I like about the Coservatives’ governance, this government is still anti-gay.

    As well, though I do not think they can do anything about it, it is still part of their official written Party platform that Marriage is between one man and one woman. It’s what stopped me voting for them.

    Just as you can not be a self-respecting gay person and vote Republican, you can not be gay and vote Conservatives.

    And just like the Republicans, the number of closeted Conservatives in government here is mind boggling.

  3. Robert in NYC says

    Strepsi, the couple from England must be the same couple who took the case to the European Court for Human Rights but were denied recognition as being legally married because the EU currently leaves it to individual member states to decide. However, since England is about to start a marriage equality consultation this March and will probably get it passed before 2015, this couple will finally have their marriage recognized, just a question of time. The marriage equality debate is supported by a conservative Prime Minister in the UK, a party that is quickly evolving on social issues such as this, far different from the republicans in America and Conservatives in Canada.

    To digress, PM David Cameron is supporing and calling for a 50% tax on the richest people in the UK, totally anathema to republican and Canadian conservative policy towards the wealthiest.

  4. says

    This won’t hold up in court. The Canadian government was actively courting tourists to get married in Canada, at the very least it won’t be applied retroactively. Interestingly, I got married in Canada in 2003 in Ontario when it was only legal ther and not in all of Canada. It looks like I’m safe. Also, I’m in NY so while they hadn’t spoken on it yet, they eventually declared that all valid marriages would be recognized here the following year. I’m going to call a lawyer in Canada but the bottom line is the courts of Canada will rip the government’s head off over this.

  5. Strepsi says

    @ ROBERT In NYC: Thanks, and I agree — my remarks are aimed at capital-C “Conservative Party of Canada” Conservatives.

  6. K in VA says

    O, Canada, how could you elect Harper and those buffoonish bigots of Conservatives?

    Bring back the Grits! Now!

  7. Smartypants says

    This is an actual case:
    My friends, a bi-national Canadian/US couple married in British Columbia in late 2003, shortly after same-sex marriage became legal there. At the time they owned a house in Vancouver, one was a Canadian citizen and the other had landed status(the Canadian equivalent of a green card)as the spouse of a Canadian citizen. In 2006 they moved to California for one of them to take a job. They still live near San Diego.

    According to the Harper government’s argument, the couple was married from 2003-2006. From 2006 to June 2008 they were unmarried until California legalized marriage, were married from June 2008 – November 2008, then were unmarried again after Prop 8 passed. By this argument they are not married if they were to divorce in California, but married if they filed to separate in Canada.

    If the Supreme Court upholds the ruling in the Prop 8 case, they’ll be married again and can divorce anywhere they damned well please.

    Seriously, Canada?

  8. Steve Y says

    Prime Minister Harper and his fellow weasels have found a way to interfere with and cast doubt on same-sex marriage without having to take a ride in their time machine (it only goes backwards) and rewrite history. California wrote into law that their same-sex marriages are valid, no matter the laws of the spouses’ countries of origin – it can be done! This proxy Republican administration in Ottawa is an embarrassment to Canada!

  9. MikeW says

    Other countries take this “not valid here if not valid there” view as well e.g. France. So you can’t even get into one of the French diluted civil-unions known as a PACS if you’re from a country like Australia that doesn’t recognise same-sex civil unions.

    Ironically Australia recognises couples who are same-sex married who migrate to Australia, but doesn’t recognise people born there as being married if they do so overseas.

  10. Gregv says

    I doubt the crusty Harper Conservatives will win on this point, and I’m surprised they’re even trying to dredge this up now.
    It seems to me this would also set a decedent for thousands of mixed-sex couples.
    For example, if a Baha’i’ couple from Iran is married in Canada but denied marriage in Iran because of discrimination against Baha’i’s, will they still be married inCanada or not? I think the court will tell the Conservatives that Canada doesn’t deny rights based on a foreign country’s discriminatory ways.

  11. Andrew says

    @ASTRO yes you are 100% correct, this is the way it has always been! I don’t get how this is news to some folks. Canadian Law cannot supersede the laws of the nation the people actually live in. Its the same thing as moving to China and trying to live the same as you would under Canadian law. It doesn’t make sence to me for people to be surprised by this. Where have you all been?

  12. Chris Martinuk says

    This is a bad interpretation of the law as it was intended, and it should be crushed. Using their reasoning, if an interracial couple’s home country banned interracial marriage, they couldn’t get married here. Ditto with different religions, or any other stupid excuse to discriminate.

    Canada is supposed to be tolerant and understanding; hopefully the public and the courts won’t stand for it.

  13. says

    ………..HOW is this news?

    The legal drinking in most Canadian provinces is 19. That doens’t meant you can drink as a 19 year old in Canada and then go back to America, order a drink in a bar, and be shocked that the Canadian laws don’t apply any more.

    i don’t get how this is a shock to people.

  14. MammaBear says

    Astro, it’s the exact opposite of what you’re saying. The position says that other countries’ laws trump Canada’s laws IN CANADA – if you can’t marry in the US because you’re the same sex, or in some other country because you’re different religions or races, then your Canadian marriage isn’t valid.

    Hard to imagine that this will stand.

    Also hard to imagine that the Harper government will want to try to defend something this idiotic when they have much less controversial, much less obvious ways to execute their ideological agenda.

  15. MammaBear says

    Sorry, I was referring to Andrew’s comment.

    Little Kiwi, it’s news not because of the impact on the married parties in their home country, but because of the impact in Canada. Yes the home countries didn’t recognize the marriages all along, but Canada did. And should.

    A better illustration of why that’s crazy could be the idea that because alcohol is prohibited in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Arabians living in Toronto should also be prohibited from drinking no matter how old they are.

  16. says

    This sounds exactly like the Massachusetts law that forbad marriages if you couldn’t be married in your home state: it was the legacy of segregation days.

  17. RJ says

    So the Harper government is saying it doesn’t want the tourism revenue that comes from foreign same-sex couples getting married in Canada? Is that really what they want to tell the business community in Canada?

  18. Dan says

    I’m a Canadian who married an American in Toronto. I live here. I assume I’m married, right? Even though we aren’t recognized in the USA? WTF?

  19. Stephen says

    I’m getting my Dad’s perspective on this whole thing. His mentality is that its the Harper Government not wanting to step on people’s toes and that the law was designed for Canadians and not the whole planet. Yes I realize he’s a bigot.

    In interviews Harper apparently has no idea and requires more information. It’s the lawyers getting picky. Also the laws were set down by the Liberals. So wouldn’t blame for things like this fall to them?

  20. says

    “I don’t get how this is news to some folks.”

    Then you don’t get the issue. This is what Canada’s federal lawyer said, according to the Globe and Mail: “same-sex marriages are legal in Canada only if they are also legal in the home country or state of the couple.” This is BIG news to most everyone in Canada, especially thousands of same-sex couples, including Dan Savage, who are now wondering whether their Canadian marriages are legal. (I’m listening to CBC Radio in Montreal right now; callers to the show, lawyers, married couples are all flabbergasted.) It makes no sense that Canada married thousands of same-sex couples from outside of Canada if those couples were never married inside Canada. If this is actually the policy the Harper government will be trying to enforce (currently Harper is saying he has no idea what it’s about), then all of those couples should never have been allowed to marry. In other words, Harper and Co. have some explaining to do . . .

  21. Chris says

    Gay marriage is just like straight marriage except you have to keep doing it over and over again.

  22. Merlyn says

    Why, if the marriages were not valid to begin with, did the Ontario government take my hundred-plus dollars and issue a marriage license to my husband and me? I checked repeatedly before going to Ontairio to marry and I was repeatedly assured that there was no residency requirement and that everything was on the up-and-up.

  23. Randy says

    On behalf of Canadians, I apologize.

    We’re currently being governed by a “majority” government, who won only 39% of the vote, generally from the socially prehistoric minority of the population.

  24. John Mclaren says

    Your lead story? Are you guys asleep?

    I work as a freelance journalist and documentary film maker in Canada. I only post news based or op ed pieces on this site. For some strange reason your firewall blocked my three attempts to provide real news from Canada.

    We know what happens once non factual news hits the USA. A majority of Americans to this day still believe that the 9-11 terrorists came into the USA from Canada based on early erroneous news report. All the terrorists had received visas from the USA, were resident there and had, in fact. taken flight training while living in the states.

    Stories like this about marriages being invalidated (when they are not) don’t serve any of us in the gay community. The story you posted 13 Janaury is stale. Go to for the latest news releases that dispel this story. The government of Canada has NOT invalidated any s-s marriages. You might consider hiring journalists who know about fact checking