Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says his government has "no intention" of reopening the national debate on same-sex marriage after a lesbian couple's divorce case cast doubt on the legal status of thousands of couples who wed in Canada.
"We have no intention further of opening or reopening this issue," Harper is quoted by the Canadian Press as saying. "This, I gather, is a case before the courts where Canadian lawyers have taken particular positions based on the law. But I will be asking officials to provide me more details with this particular case."
Harper's comments came in response to a Globe and Mail report, which cited a Department of Justice document filed in a Toronto test case that stated a lesbian couple, who wed in Toronto in 2005, cannot file for divorce as they were never legally married. The document reportedly cited a Department of Justice lawyer who said the couple's marriage is not considered legal in Canada because they would not have been lawfully wed in Florida or England, their respective homes.
Of the estimated 15,000 same-sex marriages that have taken place in the country, approximately 5,000 have involved couples from the U.S. or other countries.
The women, whose names cannot be released under a court order, are identified only as professionals in their early 30s. Nonetheless, their lawyer slammed what the paper describes as the government's "about-face."
“It is appalling and outrageous that two levels of government would be taking this position without ever having raised it before, telling anybody it was an issue or doing anything pro-active about it,” Martha McCarthy, who played an instrumental role in Canada's fight to legalize same-sex marriage in 2005, said. “All the while, they were handing out licences to perform marriages across the country to non-resident people.”
Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae echoed those sentiments. "The narrow interpretation of the law shows that the Harper government is trying to take away same sex rights by stealth, and Canadians need to know that the advances we thought were secure are now under threat from the Harper neo-conservatives," he told the Toronto Star.
UPDATE: Former Toronto mayor David Miller has joined the chorus of dissenting voices, calling the federal government's action "sneaky and underhanded" in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "I'm saddened and, as a Canadian who does a lot of work abroad, I'm very embarrassed," he said. "I was so proud to be the mayor of a city that had the first same sex marriages. It made a strong statement that everybody is welcome in our country."
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