Toronto Star

Tuesday, June 8, 1999

Reform wants marriage defined as union of 2 sexes

Institution eroded by court rulings, critic says

By Tonda MacCharles
Toronto Star Ottawa Bureau

OTTAWA - The Reform party wants Parliament to clearly define marriage as a union between a man and woman, and will force a debate and vote on the issue today.

Reform's family issues critic, Eric Lowther, has drafted a motion to put the federal government on the record because of recent court rulings that, he said, appeared to erode the institution of marriage in the eyes of Canadians.

``Let's decide where we stand on marriage. Is it the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, or not?'' Lowther said.

He cited the recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling in the M and H case, which said Ontario's family law should be rewritten to give same-sex common-law couples the same rights to alimony as straight common-law spouses.

The ruling did not change the definition of marriage. Under family law, unmarried spouses, straight or gay, do not have the same entitlements as married spouses.

Nor did other decisions or policy changes such as Ottawa's recent Public Service Pension Bill (which recognized same-sex partnerships for the purpose of access to pension benefits) change the definition of marriage.

Some legal observers suggest there may be a stronger case for gay couples to claim the right to marry, as straight couples can choose whether to marry - and get all the entitlements the law affords married couples.

``Same-sex spouses do not have this ability to choose, because they cannot marry,'' said Maxine Kerr, a family lawyer at Smith Lyons in Toronto, in an analysis of recent cases.

``Arguably, this distinction is discriminatory,'' she wrote.

Lowther was quick to say his motion was not intended to make a statement on the question of benefits for relationships outside of marriage.

But, he admitted, ``if benefits are to be extended outside of marriage, then there are some issues we have with that that we think need to be addressed.''

His main concern, he said, was simply to clarify Parliament's definition of marriage, adding it will have an impact if future court cases that challenge it come along.

Justice Minister Anne McLellan refused to talk about the motion when questioned by reporters, because she had not seen it.

``What I will say is this government has been quite clear from the outset that we are not interested in redefining the institution of marriage, the definition of marriage, and nor is there any jurisprudence that would require us to do so.''

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