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HomePolicy Articles Article Summary

The Future of Marriage in Canada: Is It Time to Consider “Civil Unions”?

Short Paper by Iain Benson

Iain T. Benson suggests that while the status of same-sex marriage is almost resolved in Canada, what has not been discussed is whether the government can use “marriage” as a category to determine benefits. In Benson’s view, Canadians disagree about what constitutes “marriage;” if the government adopts one viewpoint, it will suppress the other. In his article Benson proposes an alternative way forward.

From Benson’s perspective, it is important to address this issue ahead of the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling which is due in the spring of 2004. The author suggests there are three alternatives to federal same-sex marriage: 1) mainstream traditional heterosexual marriage recognized by the government at the federal level; 2) invoke the notwithstanding clause in the Constitution to avoid the court decision (or seek a Constitutional amendment); or 3) use a “civil unions” or “civil registry” model. Benson asserts the courts will not allow the first option, and that Canada’s politicians won’t support the second. For him, the third option is the only feasible option under the current legal framework.

“Civil unions,” Benson states, mean the government will no longer base benefits decisions on marriage, but on a simple registry procedure. The author discusses objections to using the term civil union and also presents different models. He argues that the best way to assure all Canadians that the federal government will not take sides in the “marriage” definition may be “to get out of the marriage business entirely.” Benson concludes the conception of marriage has been reconfigured entirely by recent court rulings in Canada, and suggests the country needs a serious discussion of “civil unions.”

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Policy Publication Details

Author(s): Iain Benson;
Publisher: Centre for Cultural Renewal [ Visit Website ]
Year Published: 2003; Publisher Type: Research Institute
Publicly Available: Yes Research Focus: National;
Registration Required: No Language: English
Payment Required: No Publication Format: Adobe PDF, Hard Copy

Subjects / Categories:

Policy Articles / Children & Family / Marriage
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / Legislation
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / The Courts
Policy Articles / International Law & Politics / Canadian Law
Policy Articles / Children & Family / Marriage / 2003
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / Legislation / 2003
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice / The Courts / 2003
Policy Articles / International Law & Politics / Canadian Law / 2003
Policy Articles / Children & Family
Policy Articles / Crime & Justice
Policy Articles / International Law & Politics


Keywords / Tags:

same-sex marriage; government benefits based on marriage; definition of marriage; Supreme Court of Canada; federal same-sex marriage; heterosexual marriage; notwithstanding clause; Constitution; Constitutional amendment; civil unions; civil registry; federal marriage benefits;