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Appeal Begins In Gay Marriage Case
by Jan Prout
April 22, 2003
6:01 p.m. ET/+5GMT/-3PT
(Toronto, Ontario) The Ontario Court of Appeal began hearing arguments Tuesday about the constitutionality of same-sex marriages.
The federal government is challenging a lower court ruling that found denying marriage to gay couples is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Last summer the Ontario Divisional Court struck down the prohibition against gay marriages. In its ruling, the court said an 1866 British decision which defined marriage as the union of "one man and one woman" violated the Charter of Rights. It gave the government two years to amend the law or it would be declared void.
The decision was appealed by the federal government.
"Marriage embodies the complementarity of the two human sexes," Roslyn Levine, a lawyer for the Attorney General told the Court of Appeal.
"Marriage is not simply a shopping list of functional attributes but a unique opposite-sex bond that is common across different times, cultures and religions as a virtually universal norm. In effect, marriage is not truly a common-law concept but one that predates our legal framework through its long existence outside of it."
The government argued that same-sex couples are already getting the same social benefits as married couples.
The federal arguments left the eight same-sex couples involved in the case angry.
"The government is wasting millions of dollars to fight an outdated ideal," Joe Varnel told reporters outside the Toronto court.
"Full and equal marriage is the only option that the government has."
On January 14, 2001 Varnel and his partner Kevin Bourassa were married in a double ceremony at Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church. The provincial government refused to register the marriages citing the federal definition of marriage. The six other couples in the case were denied marriage licenses for civil ceremonies.
Among those couples are Michael Leshner, a 55-year-old lawyer, and Michael Stark, 45, who works for a graphics company. They have been together for 21 years and got engaged last year after the divisional court ruling.
''It's about time we made this life of sin legal,'' Leshner said at a news conference in front of the courthouse.
''I want it once and for all," he said. "The laws, politicians, bigots, anyone who believes they have a right to interfere with Michael and I and our right to marry. That is what this is about - choice.''
"This marriage case is of utmost importance to both of us because it speaks to equality, dignity and quality of life for us as individuals who belong to the mainstream," said Barbara McDowall and Gail Donnelly, another of the couples involved in the case.
"If we want to live in a world where we can marry the person that we choose to love, then we must do whatever we can to make that happen - and then we will live in that world."
Laurie Arron of national gay rights organization EGALE said that Canadians know that legalizing gay marriage is inevitable.
"It's ridiculous to imagine that the moral judgments of others should prevent homosexual couples from being permitted to marry," Arron said.
EGALE has been granted intervenor status.
"Denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry is an antiquated discriminatory rule that has no place in contemporary Canadian society," said EGALE lawyer Cynthia Petersen.
The Ontario Appeal Court hearing is scheduled to last four days.
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