Most Canadian papers supported the Ontario Court of Appeals decision Monday to uphold the right of same-sex couples to marry in the province, though several complained that the federal government had displayed political cowardice in leaving the hot topic of gay marriage to the courts.
Appeals courts in British Columbia and Quebec had already declared unconstitutional the common law definition of marriage as “a voluntary union for life of one man and woman to the exclusion of all others,” but the Ottawa decision went further in reformulating the definition as “the voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others,” and whereas British Columbia and Quebec “suspended” their decisions—essentially postponing implementation to give the provincial legislatures time to enact legal reforms—Ontario’s ruling went into effect immediately. Several gay and lesbian couples have already gotten hitched in Ontario, and dozens more snapped up marriage licenses, according to the Vancouver Sun. The Globe and Mail reported that 21 same-sex couples received licenses in Toronto Wednesday—nearly half the day’s total. Canada’s attorney general has dithered over what his next step will be. He could appeal the court’s decision to the nation’s Supreme Court, which a Vancouver Sun editorial said would “prolong the egregious government practice of foisting contentious issues on to the courts,” or he could “do the right thing, and announce that he’s introducing, without delay, legislation that recognizes same-sex marriage.”
The Ottawa Citizen attacked politicians for abdicating their responsibility: “Broadening marriage to include same-sex couples is a seismic cultural shift that should be decided by Parliament, not the courts.” The paper’s thundering editorial concluded that pols’ cowardly reluctance to take a stand on controversial subjects “discredits Parliament, subjects judges to unfair public criticism for upholding the Constitution and undermines public support for the Charter of Rights.” Meanwhile, an op-ed in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record blamed the courts for overreaching: “As positive as the outcome was, for those Canadians who are concerned about the sanctity of the Constitution, the decision was an absolute disaster and continues the trend of increased judicial activism. Rather than interpret laws with the clear intention that they were written with, judges across the country are increasingly making new law rather than simply determining the constitutionality of existing legislation.”
It was a case of dueling headlines in editorials in the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail: The Star declared, “Ottawa must allow same-sex marriage,” while the Globe and Mail went with a slightly less strident “Ottawa should accept same-sex marriage.” The Star dismissed as “ridiculous” the federal government’s argument that “it needed to go slow on framing any changes to the law because there’s no consensus in Canada on what needs to be done. … Total consensus in Canada is virtually unheard of—and it certainly won’t ever happen on the issue of gay marriage. … All Canadians should have the right to marry. And it should be Parliament, not the courts, leading society to accept those changes.” The Globe and Mail reminded elected officials of their job descriptions: “Canada’s politicians are elected to make our nation’s important policy decisions, even when a group of voters may be angered. The government cannot avoid this responsibility, even if it is more convenient to let the Supreme Court tackle the touchy topics. … It is time for the federal government to stop the court battles, and let same-sex couples marry.” Montreal’s Le Devoir concluded, “Recognition of gay marriage is written in the sky of Canadian realpolitik, especially since public opinion rather favors the concept, according to recent surveys.”
The Toronto Sun was one of the few papers to take a stand against gay marriage: “We have long opposed same-sex marriages, believing marriage is the unique union between a man and a woman. We have criticized both Parliament and the legislatures for refusing to tackle this issue head-on, thus allowing the courts to decide it by default.” The Sun would have preferred parliament to be proactive in recognizing civil unions for gay and lesbian couples “and called it anything under the sun but marriage.” Instead, parliament “has done nothing, leaving it to the courts to decide this issue by default.”
[Correction, June 13, 2003: The Ontario Court of Appeals is based in Toronto, not Ottawa.]