Canada’s ‘gay marriage tourists’ stuck in wedlock

The future of Bill C-32 is in limbo, and that’s bad news for non-residents trapped in matrimony

Charlie GIllis
Content image



Thousands of gay couples from foreign countries got married here after Canada legalized same-sex marriage back in 2005. But for many, the bloom is now off the rose, and they have a problem: Canada has not yet legalized same-sex divorce for non-residents. And since these couples’  home countries don’t recognize their marriages to begin with, they’re more or less locked into matrimony.

There’s a bill before Parliament to fix this problem. It’s called the Civil Marriage of Non-residents Act, and would have been more aptly named the Quickie Divorce Act. Complicated issues like division of assets, spousal support and custody of dependents? Don’t worry, that all falls to the courts in your home country. Sign here and here, and congrats, you’re single.

Alas, Bill C-32 is not going to make second reading before the summer break starts at the end of the week, and there’s some concern that the Harper government is going to prorogue at the end of this sitting in order to wipe clean its legislative slate. So those loveless same-sex marriages will live on—maybe for years.

Exactly how, you might wonder, are these couples “locked into” their marriages? If their countries never recognized their unions to start with, why don’t they simply part ways and pretend the whole thing never happened?

A couple of reasons: first, there’s always the hope that one’s country will change its laws, at which point a party to an undissolved Canadian marriage would be prohibited under bigamy laws from remarrying. Moreover, some jurisdictions that don’t recognize same-sex marriages do allow civil unions; if one of the parties to a civil union has a past marriage in Canada that remains in force, you can imagine the legal mess.

There are also social considerations for those recently split from same-sex partners. “You should probably know about my Canadian marriage” seems a fairly effective date-killer.

Bill C-32 served another important purpose in clarifying that Canada actually recognizes the same-sex marriages it has solemnized to such great fanfare. The issue came up after British courts pointed out that, by international marriage law, only a person’s country of residence can decide whether a couple has the “capacity” to marry, and Canada was forced to acknowledge the point.

Again: this is academic so long as the couple is living in a country that doesn’t allow same-sex marriage. But it’s important to anyone who’s taken the trouble to come here to get married. If even Canada isn’t sure the union is valid, why did it marry them in the first place?

All told, failure to pass this bill will make Canada look hypocritical and cruel, leaving thousands in an unfair and frankly absurd legal limbo. If the Harper government plans to prorogue (as a Tory source recently suggested to Maclean’s writer John Geddes), it must make clear that Bill C-32 will be back on the order paper next fall, post-haste.