Gay and Lesbian Update

This monthly column features news and issues affecting gays and lesbians in Canada and around the world. Look for it on the second week of each month, only in The Voice.

Aaron McKinney, one of the people convicted of killing Matthew Shepard, may be in violation of his plea bargain. McKinney bargained to avoid the death penalty, however, he spoke with ABC’s 20/20 about his involvement. Part of his plea bargain involved not talking to the media, although it was never formally put in the court order. Many groups are upset with 20/20 over what they call unfair and inaccurate reporting. The report concluded that Matthew Shepard’s killing was not a hate-motivated crime.

8 months into it, and Gay Marriage in Massachusetts is succeeding. The world as they know it hasn’t changed, and all is well in civil wedded bliss. New events are coming about recently due to the marriages. First, companies that previously offered benefits to unmarried partners of employees are now saying if you want to keep those benefits, get married. It is reported that IBM, Raytheon, Northeastern University and Boston Medical Center are among the companies dropping the domestic partner benefits.

The Church of Christ, one of several US gay-positive Churches, bought a television ad that basically says everyone is welcome in their church. They show bouncers keeping a gay male couple out of a church, among other ‘undesirables’. This is followed by the message: “Jesus didn’t turn anyone away. Neither do we.” People of all sorts are shown being welcomed into a UCC church, including a lesbian couple.

NBC, CBS and ABC are refusing to play the ad for various reasons. NBC’s reason is that it is too adversarial. The Church has now filed a complaint with the FCC. Several local affiliates of the networks in Oregon have agreed to show the ad.

Following the United Kingdom, New Zealand has passed a civil unions bill to allow same-sex couples to enter into civil relationships. The Green party criticised the ruling Labour Party for not allowing same-sex marriages simply because New Zealanders weren’t ready for it.

The most significant event of Canada’s history has happened. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that Same-sex marriages are constitutional. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien sent a reference bill to the Supremes asking three questions:

1 . Is the annexed Proposal for an Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes within the exclusive legislative authority of the Parliament of Canada? If not, in what particular or particulars, and to what extent?

2. If the answer to question 1 is yes, is section 1 of the proposal, which extends capacity to marry to persons of the same sex, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not, in what particular or particulars, and to what extent?

3. Does the freedom of religion guaranteed by paragraph 2(a) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms protect religious officials from being compelled to perform a marriage between two persons of the same sex that is contrary to their religious beliefs?

After Paul Martin became Prime Minister, he added a fourth question, thus delaying the reference by six months:

4. Is the opposite sex requirement for marriage for civil purposes, as established by the common law and set out for Quebec in s. 5 of the Federal Law Civil Law Harmonization Act, No. 1, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? If not, in what particular or particulars and to what extent?

The court answered yes to the first three questions, but declined to answer the fourth, saying that the government had already decided it was unconstitutional, and that any answer they give could put in doubt the 3,000 marriages already performed. The ruling was signed “The Court” thus saying it was unanimous, and giving the full strength of the court to the message behind it.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has said he will introduce the legislation following the Christmas break. Several groups such as REAL Women are calling for a national referendum on the bill. It is expected the bill will easily pass the commons. sex_marriage_in_Canada

The Government of Alberta was rebuked by the Supreme Court’s non-binding reference. The court said that the definition of marriage is exclusive to the federal government, thus making any threat by Premier Ralph Klein to use the notwithstanding clause, moot. The Alberta Government may opt to refuse to issue licenses to same-sex couples, but it is expected that it would provoke a long and costly court battle that the Government cannot win.

Spain has pre-approved same-sex marriages. According to the Associated Press, the bill has been approved by the Spanish Cabinet, and is expected to pass Parliament in February. Sweden and Denmark have a form of “civil union” but it falls short of the same granted rights.

Quote of the Month

“Several centuries ago, it would have been understood that marriage be available only to opposite sex couples. The recognition of same sex marriage in several Canadian jurisdictions as well as two European countries belies the assertion that the same is true today.”

— Supreme Court of Canada.