Civil Marriage Act

The Civil Marriage Act (full title: An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes) (the Act) was legislation legalizing same-sex marriage across Canada. At the time the bill became law, same-sex marriage had already been legalized by court decisions in all Canadian provinces except Alberta and Prince Edward Island, as well as in the territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

It was introduced as Bill C-38 in the first session of the 38th Parliament of Canada on February 1, 2005. It passed the House of Commons on June 28, 2005, and the Senate on July 19, 2005. The Act became law when it received Royal Assent on July 20, 2005.

As with all federal legislation in Canada, the Act is written in both French and English, with equal force. The French title is Loi sur le mariage civil, or in full, Loi concernant certaines conditions de fond du mariage civil.

Civil Marriage Act
An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes
CitationS.C. 2005, c. 33
Territorial extentCanada
Enacted byHouse of Commons of Canada
Enacted bySenate of Canada
Assented to21 July 2005
Commenced21 July 2005
Legislative history
Bill introduced in the House of Commons of CanadaBill C-38, 38th Parliament, 1st Session
Introduced byIrwin Cotler, Minister of Justice
First reading1 February 2005
Second reading4 May 2005
Third reading28 June 2005
Committee report16 June 2005
Bill introduced in the Senate of CanadaBill C-38
First reading29 June 2005
Second reading6 July 2005
Third reading19 July 2005
Committee report18 July 2005
Same-sex marriage
Status: Current legislation

The Act

This is the Act's official legislative summary:

This enactment extends the legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes to same-sex couples in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also makes consequential amendments to other Acts to ensure equal access for same-sex couples to the civil effects of marriage and divorce.[1]

The short title of the act (Civil Marriage Act) is defined in Section 1. Sections 2 through 4 form the substance of the Act, and were the key points of contention during its debate in the House of Commons and the Senate. Section 3.1 was added with an amendment during the committee stage and was subsequently adopted by the House of Commons.

Marriage - certain aspects of capacity
2. Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.
Religious officials
3. It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Freedom of conscience and religion and expression of beliefs
3.1 For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.
Marriage not void or voidable
4. For greater certainty, a marriage is not void or voidable by reason only that the spouses are of the same sex.

The remaining sections are "consequential amendments" that simply adjust the wording of existing acts to conform to this one.


As a government bill, C-38 represented the official position of Paul Martin's Liberal government and the cabinet were thus bound to vote in its favour. Liberal backbenchers and members of the Conservative Party and Bloc Québécois had a free vote. In accordance with its party policy on LGBT rights, the New Democratic Party (NDP) whipped its members in favour. Bev Desjarlais defied the whip and was removed from her critic position. (She was not nominated for the next election by her riding association, and subsequently chose to sit as an independent for the remainder of the session.) Conservatives tended to vote against the Act, while Bloquistes tended to vote in favour. At least two cabinet ministers stepped down to vote against the bill. Joe Comuzzi resigned just hours before the final vote on the Act, and Martin lamented his leaving. As expected, Comuzzi voted against the Act.

The composition of Parliament was such that the prevailing opinion among political commentators indicated the bill would likely pass the House (see a detailed analysis at members of the 38th Canadian Parliament and same-sex marriage). Although there was some challenge to it, this opinion was verified with a 158-133 vote at third reading in the House of Commons on June 28. The bill passed in the Senate on July 19, with a 47-21 vote, with three abstentions.

The legislative process

The bill was given its first reading on February 1, 2005, after its introduction by Justice minister Irwin Cotler. C-38 was written on the basis of a draft bill produced by then-Justice minister Martin Cauchon in 2003, which had been submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2004 as the reference question Re: Same-Sex Marriage.

Due to the government's tenuous minority position, there was a strong possibility that the government could have fallen on a motion of confidence through the budget bills, causing the bill to die on the order paper. It would then have been up to a new post-election government to re-introduce the bill affirming same-sex marriage (or to introduce a bill, of uncertain constitutionality, defining marriage as one man and one woman). However, the government survived the last of the budget votes on June 23, 2005, and successfully passed a motion to extend the current sitting of Parliament. In order to pass the motion extending the session, the Liberals provided a written promise to the Bloc Québécois that they would bring C-38 to a vote before the end of the current session.

Finally, on June 28, the Act was passed on third reading by the House of Commons; 158 voting in favour, 133 voting against. On July 19, it passed the Senate by a 47-21 vote with three abstentions and received royal assent (thereby becoming law) on July 20.

A summary of the legislation's progress is given below.[2]

Stage House of Commons Senate
Introduction and First Reading 1 February 2005 June 29
Second Reading Debate February 16 to May 4 July 4 to 6
Second Reading May 4 July 6
Committee Name Special Committee on Bill C-38 Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Committee Stage May 5 to June 15 July 11 to 14
Committee Report June 16 July 18
Debates at Report Stage June 27 -
Report Stage Vote June 28 -
Third Reading Debate June 28 July 19
Third Reading and Passage June 28 July 19
Royal Assent July 20


House of Commons

Result of the third and final reading of Bill C-38 in the House of Commons
  • February 1, 2005 - Cotler introduces the bill and the House grants first reading. Accordingly, it is designated Bill C-38 and published.
  • February 2, 2005 - Conservative support for the bill doubles to four MPs as former Progressive Conservatives Jim Prentice and Gerald Keddy announce they will vote in favour. Belinda Stronach (who later became a Liberal cabinet minister) and James Moore were already on record as being in favour.
  • February 8, 2005 - The Calgary-based Canada Family Action Coalition[3] seeks to boycott Famous Players Theatres because of a ten-second ad that urged moviegoers to contact their MPs to say they support same-sex marriage. They refused to buy an ad when they learn it was paid for by Salah Bachir on behalf of Canadians for Equal Marriage.
  • February 16, 2005 - Second reading begins on the bill with speeches by Prime Minister Paul Martin; Opposition Leader Stephen Harper; Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe; and NDP human rights critic Bill Siksay.[4]
  • April 12, 2005 - The Conservative Party's motion against the bill is defeated 164-132 against.
  • May 4, 2005 - Bill C-38 passes second reading in the House of Commons with a final vote of 164-137 for.
  • May 5, 2005 - Bill C-38 has its 1st special legislative committee meeting to study the bill, to listen from witnesses both against and for the bill, as well as propose amendments.
  • May 19, 2005 - Paul Martin's minority government survives a close (153-152) motion of confidence; with the Liberals still in power and Stephen Harper's Conservatives hinting that they'll back off future votes of non-confidence. Bill C-38 showed a strong promise of being made law (after a 3rd reading and vote) sometime before Parliament adjourns for the summer as the Prime Minister indicated MPs may sit in the summer, and the Senate would deal with the bill in July.
  • June 15, 2005 - Paul Martin's minority government survives no fewer than 16 confidence votes in the House of Commons. A defeat on any of them would have forced an election. But in the end, there was no repeat of the single-vote squeaker win of May 19. The closest vote passed 153 to 149; Gurmant Grewal is on stress leave over the tape scandal, two other conservative MPs are sick with cancer, and Thibault from the BQ is away due to the passing away of her father. As well, a series of public opinion polls released just days earlier all showed the Liberals in the lead, one of them released just a week ago showing the Liberals have a 14% lead over the Tories. The Tories seem themselves to not be wanting an election now, either.
  • June 15, 2005 - It is appearing less likely the bill will be out of 3rd reading stage by the time MPs recess from the summer on June 23 (unless sittings area extended) due to Conservatives stalling the budget bill (C-48), and the Government wants to deal with C-48 before C-38. The Government can invoke closure and force a vote on C-38 immediately, but it seems unlikely to happen since even the Liberal Government has disgruntled MPs against C-38 that want more debate now that the committee has reported. Weeks ago, Pat O'Brien left the Liberal caucus over the same-sex marriage legislation, that he felt was being rushed through the Commons. Cotler says the Government is where they expected to be which is now at Report Stage and that although he wants to see the legislation passed by the summer, he's only the Minister of Justice.
  • June 16, 2005 - The special legislative committee studying C-38 reported back to the House of Commons, with an amendment designed to help further protect religious officials who are against performing a same-sex marriage, and that those opposed to same-sex marriage should be able to speak their mind. Another amendment will be finalized soon that protects religious officials from losing their charitable tax status.
  • June 23, 2005 - Traditionally, it is around this date that the House of Commons closes. But with Bill C-38 in the process, MPs of the Liberal, Bloc and NDP parties vote to extend the sitting time through the following week to pass Bill C-38 in third and final reading. The same night, the budget bill (Bill C-48) passes after a late night snap vote is called, ending the threat by Bill C-38 opponents to derail the bill by defeating the budget thereby bringing down the government and forcing a general election.
  • June 27, 2005 - A late night motion for time allocation is passed 163 to 106 limiting further debate on Bill C-38 to nine hours: one before concurrence on the report and eight thereafter. The sitting, which extended until the early morning hours of the next day, ends with a series of votes on proposed amendments in which nine amendments proposed by same-sex marriage opponents are defeated. The report is then concurred in. This closes the amendment stage and frees the House to begin final debate on third reading.
  • June 28, 2005 - Bill C-38 passes its final reading a few minutes after 21:00 EST, 158-133, through the House of Commons. Liberal cabinet ministers were ordered by Prime Minister Paul Martin to vote for the legislation, while it remained a free vote for Liberal backbench MPs. Joe Comuzzi, a traditional opponent of same-sex marriage, resigned from Cabinet and voted against the bill. Almost all New Democrat and Bloc Québécois MPs voted in favour of the bill, while the Conservative MPs were virtually unanimous in voting against it. Conservative Leader Stephen Harper made a controversial claim that "the law lacks legitimacy because it passed [only] with the support of the separatist Bloc party", and a majority of the federalist side was against. NDP MP Bev Desjarlais voted against the bill and was stripped of her position in the NDP's shadow cabinet as Transport and the Canadian Wheat Board critic. She later lost her riding association's nomination for the riding of Churchill. The Bloc and the Conservatives declared C-38 a free vote.


  • June 29, 2005 – First reading of Bill C-38 occurred in the Senate.[5] Debate on second reading was then scheduled for July 4 and the forthcoming days.
  • July 4, 2005 – The debate on second reading begins with Senator Serge Joyal as mover of the bill. Senator Gerry St. Germain argues against the bill and Senator Jack Austin concludes the first day of debate arguing for the bill's adoption.[6] The government introduces a notice of motion for time allocation that would restrict debate on the bill to six hours.[7] Debate on second reading is to continue the next day.
  • July 5, 2005 – Debate on second reading continued, although the actual debate occurred only for a few minutes. This was then followed by a long and heated debate on whether to invoke closure (rather than on the main bill).[8] Closure was invoked by a margin of 40 to 17 with 2 abstentions.[9]
  • July 6, 2005 – The Senate passed Bill C-38 on second reading by a margin of 43 to 12. The Bill went to the Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs.[10]
  • July 14, 2005 – The Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs finished seeing witnesses, and performed a clause-by-clause consideration.[11]
  • July 18, 2005 – The Committee reported back to the Senate without amendment, and the final debate was then scheduled to start the next day. Unanimous consent required to proceed directly to a vote on third reading was denied.[12]
  • July 19, 2005 – Debate on third reading of Bill C-38 began in the Senate. An attempt to delay third reading of the bill by six months was defeated 19 to 52, and an amendment to the bill that would have declared "traditional marriage" as being between a man and a woman and "civil marriage" as between two persons failed, 24 to 46, with 4 abstentions. Shortly after 11 p.m., the Senate passed Bill C-38 on third and final reading by a margin of 47 to 21, with 3 abstentions.[13]

Royal Assent

See also


  1. ^ "Bill C-38, 38th Parliament, 1st Session". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  2. ^ "Bill C-38 at LegisInfo". Archived from the original on 2006-06-17. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  3. ^ "Canada Family Action Coalition - CFAC". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  4. ^ "Martin, Harper kick off same-sex debate". CBC News. 2005-02-16. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  5. ^ "Debates - Issue 78 - June 29, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  6. ^ "Debates - Issue 80 - July 4, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  7. ^ "Debates - Issue 80 - July 4, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  8. ^ "Debates - Issue 81 - July 5, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  9. ^ "Debates - Issue 81 - July 5, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  10. ^ "Debates - Issue 82 - July 6, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  11. ^ "Agenda for the meeting - Senate". 1997-12-29. Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  12. ^ "Debates - Issue 83 - July 18, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  13. ^ "Debates - Issue 84 - July 19, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.
  14. ^ "Debates - Issue 85 - July 20, 2005". Retrieved 2010-05-20.

External links

Bev Desjarlais

Beverly Faye Desjarlais (August 19, 1955 – March 15, 2018) was a Canadian politician. She represented Churchill in the House of Commons of Canada from 1997 to 2006, initially as a New Democrat and later as an Independent after losing her party nomination in late 2005. She had lost the confidence of the NDP after she had voted against the Civil Marriage Act, legalizing same-sex marriage in Canada. She later worked as a departmental aide to Conservative Veterans Affairs Minister Greg Thompson.Her ex-husband, Bob Desjarlais, is a prominent labour leader in northern Manitoba, who campaigned for Mayor of Thompson in 2006.

Canadians for Equal Marriage

Canadians for Equal Marriage is a Canadian public interest group representing Egale Canada, PFLAG Canada, the Canadian Federation of Students, the Canadian Labour Congress, the Canadian Psychological Association, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, and the Canadian Association of Social Workers, among others to promote the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Canada. It has been relatively inactive since its goals were achieved with the passage and acceptance of the Civil Marriage Act.

Halpern v Canada (AG)

Halpern v Canada (AG), [2003] O.J. No. 2268 is a notable June 10, 2003 decision of the Court of Appeal for Ontario where the Court found that the common law definition of marriage, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, violated section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Intersex rights in Canada

Intersex people in Canada have no recognition of their rights to physical integrity and bodily autonomy, and no specific protections from discrimination on the basis of sex characteristics. Academic advocates including Janik Bastien-Charlebois and Morgan Holmes, and organizations including Egale Canada and the Canadian Bar Association have called for reform.

Marriage in Canada

The Parliament of Canada has exclusive legislative authority over marriage and divorce in Canada under section 91(26) of the Constitution Act, 1867. However section 92(12) of the Constitution Act, 1867 gives the provincial legislatures the power to pass laws regulating the solemnization of marriage.

In 2001 there were 146,618 marriages in Canada, down 6.8% from 157,395 in 2000. Prince Edward Island had the highest crude marriage rate (6.5 per 1,000 people) and Quebec had the lowest (3.0).

Marriage ceremonies in Canada can be either civil or religious. Marriages may be performed by members of the clergy, marriage commissioners, judges, justices of the peace or clerks of the court, depending on the laws of each province and territory regulating marriage solemnization. In 2001, the majority of Canadian marriages (76.4%) were religious, with the remainder (23.6%) being performed by non-clergy.

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada nationally since 2005. Court decisions, starting in 2003, had already legalized same-sex marriage in eight out of ten provinces and one of three territories.

Numbers (Vancouver)

Numbers Cabaret, or simply Numbers, is a gay bar and nightclub in Davie Village, Vancouver, British Columbia.

Pulleri Illathu Madhusoodanan Thangal

Pulleri Illathu Madhusudana Thangal (August 18, 1900 – November 1, 1970) was a prominent Nambudiri landlord during British rule who controlled much of the land in Mattanur. Born in Pulleri Illum, Mattanur, he was a member of the Madras Legislative Council from the year 1929 to 1934, representing the landlords of Malabar. During this time he was also nominated as a member of Military Advisory Board. His landholdings covered 18 villages in and around Mattanur.

As the president of the Yogakshema Sabha in 1932-33, he was involved with the Namboothiri Bill; Temple-entry resolution; Hindu Divorce Bill; Hindu Charitable Institutions; Improvement to women's quarters set up; Resolution for reducing taxes; Civil Marriage Act. As a social reformer his contributions towards the upliftment of the downtrodden was recognized and appreciated by Mahatma Gandhi.

Same-sex marriage in Alberta

Same-sex marriage has been legal in Alberta since July 20, 2005, upon the granting of royal assent to the federal Civil Marriage Act. Alberta was one of the four Canadian provinces and territories where same-sex marriage had not been legalised prior to the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act, along with Prince Edward Island, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut.

Same-sex marriage in Canada

Same-sex marriage in Canada was progressively introduced in several provinces by court decisions beginning in 2003 before being legally recognized nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005. On June 10, 2003, the Court of Appeal for Ontario issued a decision immediately legalizing same-sex marriage in Ontario, thereby becoming the first province where it was legal. The introduction of a federal gender-neutral marriage definition made Canada the fourth country in the world, and the first country outside Europe, to legally recognize same-sex marriage throughout its borders. Before the federal recognition of same-sex marriage, court decisions had already introduced it in eight out of ten provinces and one of three territories, whose residents collectively made up about 90% of Canada's population. More than 3,000 same-sex couples had already married in those areas before the Civil Marriage Act was passed. Most legal benefits commonly associated with marriage had been extended to cohabiting same-sex couples since 1999.

The Civil Marriage Act was introduced by Prime Minister Paul Martin's Liberal minority government in the House of Commons of Canada on February 1, 2005, as Bill C-38. It was passed by the House of Commons on June 28, 2005, by the Senate on July 19, 2005, and it received royal assent the following day. Following the 2006 election, which was won by a Conservative minority government under new Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the House of Commons defeated a motion to reopen the matter by a vote of 175 to 123 on December 7, 2006, effectively reaffirming the legislation. This was the third vote supporting same-sex marriage taken by three Parliaments under three prime ministers in three different years, as shown below.

Same-sex marriage in New Brunswick

Same-sex marriage in New Brunswick has been legal since July 4, 2005, when the province began issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples pursuant to a June 23 court ruling.

Same-sex marriage in Newfoundland and Labrador

Same-sex marriage in Newfoundland and Labrador has been legal since December 21, 2004, when the province was ordered to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage in Nunavut

Same-sex marriage in Nunavut has been legal since 20 July 2005. The territory began granting marriage licences to same-sex couples upon the passage of the federal Civil Marriage Act. Previously, beginning in October 2003, same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions were legally recognized in Nunavut.

Same-sex marriage in Prince Edward Island

Same-sex marriage in Prince Edward Island has been legal since July 20, 2005. The province began the process of updating its laws to recognize same-sex marriage after the passage in the House of Commons of Canada of the Civil Marriage Act, the federal law recognizing such marriages. It had been one of only four provinces and territories, with Alberta, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut, where same-sex marriage had not already been legalized by court challenges prior to the passage of the law.

Same-sex marriage in Quebec

Same-sex marriage in Quebec has been legal since March 19, 2004. Quebec became the third Canadian province (after Ontario and British Columbia) and the fifth jurisdiction in the world to open marriage to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage in Saskatchewan

Same-sex marriage became available in the Canadian Province of Saskatchewan as of November 5, 2004, as a result of a decision of the Family Law Division of the Saskatchewan Court of Queen's Bench. This decision followed similar cases in six other provinces and territories, and pre-dated by eight months the federal Civil Marriage Act of 2005, which made same-sex marriage available throughout Canada. Later court decisions have dealt with the issue of marriage commissioners who object to performing same-sex marriages on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Furthermore, same-sex couples have been able to adopt children jointly since 2001, after the Adoption Act was amended by the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan in July 2001.

Same-sex marriage in Yukon

Same-sex marriage became legal in Yukon on July 14, 2004. The territory became the fourth jurisdiction in Canada (and the seventh worldwide) to legalize same-sex marriage, after the provinces of Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.

Same-sex marriage in the Northwest Territories

Same-sex marriage in the Northwest Territories has been legal since July 20, 2005. The Canadian territory began granting marriage licences to same-sex couples upon the granting of royal assent to the federal Civil Marriage Act.

Senators of the 38th Canadian Parliament and same-sex marriage

The Civil Marriage Act was approved by the House of Commons of Canada on third reading on June 28, 2005 (see Members of the 38th Canadian Parliament and same-sex marriage). It then proceeded to the Senate of Canada where it was debated. The bill was debated on second reading in the Senate from July 4 to July 6, 2005 and then sent to committee. Third reading debate occurred on July 19, 2005 concluding in a vote that passed the bill which went on to receive royal assent on July 20, 2005.


For the purposes of this table, the Speaker of the Senate, who did not vote, is counted as an absentee since the official Senate tabulation does not list him as an abstainer.

Senators of the 39th Canadian Parliament and same-sex marriage

The Civil Marriage Act received royal assent on July 20, 2005. During the 2006 federal election campaign, Conservative leader Stephen Harper pledged to re-open the issue of same-sex marriage should his party form government. Following the Conservative victory in the election, Harper promised to bring the matter to the House of Commons of Canada "sooner than later" in the form of a resolution on whether parliament should consider a new law banning same-sex marriage. Should such a resolution pass, a new bill would have to pass both the House of Commons and the Senate of Canada in order to become law. (See also Members of the 39th Canadian Parliament and same-sex marriage)

The composition of the Senate has changed little since the debate on the Civil Marriage Act. Eight new Senators have been appointed since July 19, 2005 when the Civil Marriage Act passed third reading in the upper house. These are Senators Larry Campbell, Andrée Champagne, Dennis Dawson, Francis Fox, Yoine Goldstein, Sandra Lovelace Nicholas, Hugh Segal and Rod Zimmer (all are Liberals except for Champagne and Segal who are Conservatives). Four Senators have died or retired since the Bill's passage: Shirley Maheu (Liberal), William Doody (Progressive Conservative), Landon Pearson (Liberal) and James Kelleher (Conservative). Maheu and Pearson voted for the Bill, Kellehrer opposed while Doody was absent.

On December 7, 2006, a motion calling on "the government to introduce legislation to restore the traditional definition of marriage without affecting civil unions and while respecting existing same-sex marriages" was defeated in the House of Commons by a margin of 175 to 123 and Prime Minister Stephen Harper declared the issue settled pledging not to reopen it even if his party wins a majority government in the next election. Therefore, the issue will not be brought to the Senate in the foreseeable future.

The table below is a hypothetical projection of how Senators might vote on the issue of same-sex marriage based on the votes of those Senators who were present during the 2005 debate on the Civil Marriages Act and statements made since then by those Senators and Senators appointed subsequent to the vote.


(tally adjusted to remove former Senators and add new Senators)

For the purposes of this table, the Speaker of the Senate, who did not vote, is counted as an absentee since the official Senate tabulation does not list him as an abstainer.

Rights and policy


This page is based on a Wikipedia article written by authors (here).
Text is available under the CC BY-SA 3.0 license; additional terms may apply.
Images, videos and audio are available under their respective licenses.