On June 10, the high court of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, ruled that the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage infringes human dignity, harms families, and violates the constitution. The court ordered an immediate end to this cruel discrimination. Within hours, same-sex couples began marrying.
American couples, different-sex or same-sex, may go to Canada to marry. Canada, like the United States, has no residency requirement for marriage (though it does have a one-year residency requirement for divorce). See www.cbs.gov.on.ca/mcbs/english/marriages.htm for a description of how to marry in Canada. [This is “Getting Married in Ontario” on Ontario’s Web site.]
American couples who go to Canada to marry should realize that the decision is not just a political gesture, but rather is about taking on all the responsibilities, legal obligations, joys, and wonder of being married. When couples who marry in Canada come home — although they might face uncertainties and discrimination — they will be as married as any people on the planet. That means, for example, the couples will identify as married on applications/forms for jobs, apartments, credit, mortgages, insurance, medical treatment, and taxes.
The good news is that couples returning home married will have a unique chance every day to role model what married same-sex couples look like, and show that marriages of same-sex couples strengthen those families and the larger community while harming no one. This is critically important because as GLBT Americans, we are involved in a civil rights struggle and have not yet won the freedom to marry in any state -- although that may soon change with cases pending in the Massachusetts high court (GLAD) and in the New Jersey courts (Lambda Legal). As in any civil rights struggle, we still have other layers of discrimination to undo, both in the states and with the federal law that discriminates against the marriages of same-sex couples.
While many marriages will be respected to varying degrees in various places, and even in surprising places, many married couples will also experience discrimination. Some but not all businesses, states, and others will refuse to honor these lawful marriages, along with the federal government. And couples with a member in the military, or on public assistance, or in the U.S. on a visa will face particular complexities. Couples must be prepared to live with a level of uncertainty while we continue our work to end marriage discrimination here.
But we can and we will peel away the layers of discrimination we now face. It is simply no longer debatable that our families exist and that we need the same protections marriage provides for our families and our children. Everyone can help. People can join and work with local, state, and national organizations to repeal discriminatory state laws and the federal anti-marriage law as unfair and harmful to GLBT families and their children. (Contact us to get a list of organizations.). They can focus public attention on how they have been treated – the discrimination and harms the marriage exclusion causes their families and the proof that the sky does not fall when a community respects same-sex couples’ marriages. And people should continue to use the available legal tools such as wills and health-care proxies, and should consult with attorneys and financial advisors, to protect their families during the lengthy process of sorting these issues out.
For those who contemplate litigation as a response to discrimination against their marriage, it is critical to remember that any legal case has profound implications beyond the individuals involved. Please contact the organizations below who have the most experience litigating on marriage, civil unions and the rights of GLBT people and who have definite thoughts about what, when and where litigation is and is not advisable for taking our movement forward. Couples should absolutely not race across the border just to set up lawsuits; the wrong cases could set us back for years. We will be strongest if we work together.
Again, this is a civil rights struggle, and we must bring all of our resources to each part of the struggle: telling stories, politically organizing, engaging non-gay allies, working in legislatures, and very selectively litigating. Together we can win marriage equality here in the United States.