Recent legal and political developments in Canada on same-sex "marriage" are enlightening for the American constitutional debate. Canada shares a number of important characteristics with the United States. It has a complex federal system, activist courts, and evolving public opinion on questions related to homosexuality. And on the issue of homosexual rights, Canada is a nation on the leading edge of change.
In 1999, Canadian law enshrined the traditional definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.1 This definition was supported by the Canadian people and was passed overwhelmingly by the Canadian Parliament. By early 2005, legislation was introduced in Parliament that would enact a new definition of marriage that includes same-sex couples. By late June, the legislation had passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 158 to 133.
One thing is clear from this development: Triggered by a series of court decisions, Canadian law and political attitudes have changed with remarkable speed. The rapidity and nature of these changes offer lessons for American legislators.
This paper concentrates on several matters. First, it offers a brief overview of the Canadian constitutional system to place the Canadian developments in context. Second, it summarizes recent Canadian court decisions on same-sex marriage. Third, it examines changes in Canadian law, spurred by these judicial decisions. Fourth, it looks at Canadian public opinion on same-sex marriage, which is not markedly different from U.S. public opinion. Finally, it points to the implications and lessons of the Canadian developments for the United States and offers suggestions to Members of Congress who wish to prevent a similarly rapid imposition of same-sex marriage in the United States.
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