April 4, 2013 6:21 pm

Same-sex marriage bill still in limbo, 14 months on

Alisha, left, and Julie, walk in a park in Halifax on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012.

Andrew Vaughan/The Canadian Press

The lawyer for a lesbian couple whose attempt to divorce prompted the Conservative government to hastily introduce a bill fixing a same-sex marriage loophole says she has no idea why the legislation has sat in limbo for almost 14 months.

“I don’t know why it’s taking so long,” said Toronto lawyer Martha McCarthy, who represents the couple at the heart of the controversy.

“We’re waiting. We’re just waiting.”

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The legislation was crafted by the Harper government in February 2012 after a Department of Justice lawyer argued the foreign couple who wed in Canada and were seeking a divorce – one hailed from Florida and the other from England – were not legally married because their union is not recognized in either of their home regions. The couple’s identity is protected by a court order.

Same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada by the Liberals in 2005. Bill C-32, an Act to Amend the Civil Marriage Act, would fix a loophole dealing with residency requirements and ensure all marriages performed in Canada were valid.

But since then, the legislation has gone nowhere, and the women have not been able to divorce.

It has become a curious case in the House of Commons as the government continues to blame the NDP for slowing down the legislation, even though it is their bill to bring forward to Parliament.

In the final days before MPs took their two-week Easter break, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson stood in the House – when asked questions on different topics – and urged the NDP to support the bill.

“I would hope that the members of the opposition would get on board with us and get that thing passed through Parliament,” he said.

Nicholson’s spokeswoman said the government has no intention of reopening the debate on the definition of marriage.

“In our government’s view, these marriages should be valid,” said spokeswoman Julie Di Mambro.

“That is why we have introduced legislation to fix the anomaly in the law left behind by the previous Liberal government. Despite our efforts, the NDP refuse to work with us to get this legislation passed quickly.”

In January, Conservative House leader Peter Van Loan offered to pass the bill directly to the Senate.

But the NDP wants at least a vote on the matter – something House leader Nathan Cullen said could happen in a day.

He said it’s ultimately up to the government to decide when it brings its own legislation forward, and he believes the Conservatives do not want to vote on a matter dealing with gay marriage.

“It seems to me, the fact that we want to have a vote on this, that’s causing the government all sorts of pain,” he said. “This might be embarrassing.”

He said the NDP has given the Conservatives an “incredible offer” to speed the bill’s passage up– but the party wants a record of what happened to the bill in the House.

“Asking for a bill to have no debate, no vote, is a dangerous precedent, especially when it is about something as sensitive as divorce,” he said.

McCarthy said she and her clients have agreed to wait until the spring before proceeding with their case – but has no idea what will happen if the bill doesn’t move forward.

“We get a lot of calls from people asking, ‘What’s the status?” said McCarthy.

“I’d like to know.”

© Shaw Media, 2013

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