Last edited: February 06, 2005

Sex Legal Now; Marriage Next?

U.S. Following Canada on Gay Rights

Providence Journal, June 28, 2003
75 Fountain St., Providence, RI 02902
Fax: 401-277-7346 Email:

By Heather M. Ross

The U.S. Supreme Court has finally caught up with growing public opinion in America over gay rights.

The court overturned a Texas law that made it a crime for two consenting adults of the same sex to engage in sexual relations in the privacy of their own bedroom. In the majority opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that gays and lesbians have “the full right to engage in private conduct without government intervention.”

As gay-rights supporters in the United States waited anxiously for the court’s ruling, they heard an announcement from the Canadian government, on June 17, that could take gay couples one step closer to equality: Canada plans to open marriage to gay couples throughout the country.

After several Canadian court rulings striking down the traditional definition of marriage, the government has decided to introduce legislation expanding that definition to include same-sex couples. The legislation will make Canada the third country to recognize same-sex marriages, after Belgium and the Netherlands. But unlike the other two countries, Canada’s law will have no residency requirements in order for couples to tie the knot.

What’s more, Canada’s law will specifically state that religious institutions will not be forced to perform or recognize same-sex marriages.

Several same-sex couples from the United States have gone to Ontario—where the law has already taken effect—and registered for marriage licenses. It is unclear what legal recognition they will receive back in the United States, even thought the two countries have a treaty that requires each to recognize marriages performed in the other.

Public opinion on same-sex unions is not that different between Canada and the United States. Recent polls in Canada show 54 percent favor granting legal recognition to same-sex marriage. In the United States, a Gallup poll in May found 49 percent support legalizing civil unions between two adults of the same sex. That number is significant, since in 1996, only 28 percent of Americans supported civil unions.

What’s more promising, the poll showed that 60 percent of Americans think that same-sex relations between consenting adults should be legal, and 88 percent think that gays should have equal rights in the workplace.

But Americans are still far behind their Canadian counterparts when it comes to supporting gay-rights issues with actual legislation.

For instance, Canada decriminalized private same-sex relations nationwide in 1969. So-called “bedroom laws”—which the Supreme Court just ruled on—have existed in 13 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

In 1992, just after President Clinton was elected and promised to end the ban on gays in the military, Canada’s Supreme Court shot down its country’s ban. Canadian troops—including gay Canadian troops—are serving alongside U.S. troops in Afghanistan. And even as American soldiers fight on the same battlefields in Iraq with members of the British military, which also lets openly gay men and women serve, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is still the law of the land for the United States.

Just as foes of gay rights have argued that allowing homosexuals in the military would destroy that institution, there have been many who have argued that granting any equal rights to gay and lesbian couples would severely damage the institution of marriage.

But in 1999, the Canadian government passed legislation that provided expanded rights to same-sex and heterosexual common-law couples. And in contrast to the potential horror described by those opposed to gay rights, Canadian heterosexuals continue to marry, continue to stay married and continue to have children.

The Canadian family has not spontaneously combusted, nor will it with the legalization of same-sex marriage. And neither will the American family unit.

It is time for American lawmakers to come to grips with the fact that the answer to curing current American family woes is not to bash what are seen as alternative families, but rather to accept those consenting adult couples who wish to join together in committed, loving relationships. This will only serve to strengthen our society.

The Supreme Court should be commended for understanding this.

  • Heather M. Ross is a freelance writer who lives in Canada.

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