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Canadian Government Nullifies Foreign Same-Sex Marriages

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Thursday Jan 12, 2012
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UPDATE: After receiving a significant amount of criticism from gay rights groups and supporters from around the world, the Harper government has promised to take the necessary legal actions that will allow foreign couples that married in Canada to receive a divorce.

Foreign Gay couples that tied the knot in Canada are not legally married unless their homeland has recognized same-sex marriage, Toronto’s Globe and Mail reported in a Jan 12 article.

"The Harper government has served notice that thousands of same-sex couples who flocked to Canada from abroad since 2004 to get married are not legally wed," the newspaper writes.

The federal policy change was recently discovered in a Toronto test case involving a lesbian couple. The couple married in the city in 2005 but were told that they cannot divorce because they were "never really married." A Department of Justice lawyer says that the marriage was not legal in Canada because same-sex marriage is not recognized in Florida and England -- where they currently live.

"In terms of the specifics of the story this morning, I will admit to you that I am not aware of the details," Stephen Harper, Canada’s prime minster, said. "This I gather is a case before the courts where Canadian lawyers have taken a particular position based on the law and I will be asking officials to provide me more details."

Harper also said that his government has no intention of reopening the issue of same-sex marriage.

The two women’s names cannot be released due to a court order but their lawyer, Martha McCartney, spoke on their behalf.

"It is appalling and outrageous that two levels of government would be taking this position without ever having raised it before, telling anybody it was an issue or doing anything pro-active about it," she said. "All the while, they were handing out licenses to perform marriages across the country to non-resident people."

Several LGBT rights organizations are outraged and claim that it will impact gay couples financially.

"One of the benefits that marriage gives to families is security and clarity," said Evan Wolfson, president of the gay rights group, Freedom to Marry.

"They don’t have to deal with a tangle of uncertainty. If the Canadian government is serious about trying to cast doubt on people’s marriages, it not only insults their dignity and hurts them personally, but it raises all sorts of complex legal and economic questions for everyone who deals with them - employers, businesses, banks, and on and on."

Canada was the third country in the world to legalize gay marriage and welcomed thousands of gay and lesbian couples from around the world to marry.

Stephen Harper, a member of Canada’s Conservative Party, has been the country’s prime minister since 2006. During his campaign, he promised a free vote to revisit the issue of gay marriage. The bill to change the law was rejected and Harper said he considered the issue to be closed.

In addition, the Harper government also reduced funding to a number of social programs and festivals, including LGBT related events like Montreal’s Black and Blue Festival -- one of the country’s biggest gay festivals.

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