Divorce and equality

Irwin Cotler responds to the Justice Minister’s comments last week about the laws governing same-sex marriage.

While it is true that there exists a Canadian residency requirement of one year before a couple may divorce here, this requirement applies to all marriages — homosexual and heterosexual — and existed long before same-sex marriage was adopted in this country. Indeed, this provision is from the 1985 Divorce Act introduced by the Conservative government of Brian Mulroney. Certainly, if this provision needed fixing so urgently as a result of same-sex marriage, the Conservatives have had ample opportunity to do so since their assent to power in 2006.

While it appears that the couple in this particular court case — comprised of one partner from the UK and the other from Florida — may not meet this requirement, the government could have rested its case here. Instead, the government went a step further and deserves to be called out on its approach — it is one thing to say this couple cannot divorce because the residency requirement has not been met; it is an entirely different contention — and an offensive if not discriminatory one — to assert that the couple was never married in the first place. This is to turn fact and law on its head, while in the process undermining equality for gays and lesbians.

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