In 2002 and 2003, court decisions in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia found that Canada’s marriage law, by restricting civil marriage to opposite-sex couples, was unconstitutional because it violated the equality clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Following an appeal to the Ontario Court of Appeal which upheld the lower court’s ruling, and a Supreme Court of Canada reference, the Government of Canada enacted the Civil Marriage Act which extended marriage to same-sex couples in July 2005. Since then, according to 2011 census data, over 21 000 same-sex couples have married in Canada.
Following the 2006 federal election, Prime Minister Harper acted on a campaign promise and introduced a motion in Parliament asking if the issue of same-sex marriage should be re-opened. The motion was defeated in a free vote in the House of Commons by a margin of 175-123. Thirteen Conservative MPs, including six cabinet ministers, voted against the motion. After the vote, PM Harper said, “I don’t see reopening this question in the future.” Both he and the Government of Canada considered the matter settled.
Nevertheless, the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has maintained in its official Policy Declaration a position opposing same-sex marriage and calling for future legislation defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman. This section was added in 2005 when the country was in the midst of a contentious debate on the issue. It was most recently upheld at the 2013 National Convention and approved by the CPC National Council.
Since 2005, the attitude of Canadians to same-sex marriage has changed dramatically. A large majority of Canadians across all regions and all age-groups now supports extending marriage to same-sex couples. The CPC’s policy of restricting civil marriage to opposite-sex couples not only threatens to place unfair limits on the established civil rights of same-sex couples, it risks alienating a significant segment of the electorate that would otherwise support the CPC’s position on the economy, foreign policy, and the role of government in the lives of citizens.
The CPC’s Policy Declaration should be amended to remove the civil marriage provisions, both to send a signal to LGBT Conservatives that they are welcome in the party and to ensure that the CPC has broad appeal to right-of-centre voters. Nevertheless, the CPC should continue to support policies that protect the rights of religious institutions and groups to conduct religious marriage ceremonies and to use their facilities as they see fit is protected.
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