Till divorce do us part | Cultural Festivals | Halifax, Nova Scotia | THE COAST

Till divorce do us part

Now that the same-sex marriage bill has been pushed through, gay and lesbian couples have access to privileges only straight couples enjoyed before. Including divorce.

It’s the classic story of love gone wrong.

Ontario, the early ’90s. Girl meets girl, girls fall in love. For 10 years, the girls maintain a common law relationship, until that glorious day in June 2003 when the Ontario Court of Appeal finally recognizes the validity of same-sex marriages in that province, a decision the federal government decides to live with, even though the federal definition of marriage would remain “one man and one woman” for two more years.

Within days of the Appeal Court decision, the apparently happy couple ties the knot. Five days later they separate, and in July 2004 ask for, and are subsequently granted, Canada’s first same-sex divorce.

Cynics at the time argued the whole exercise was simply an attempt to push the same-sex marriage debate into the next logical legal realm. Which made sense, as the feds were forced into a position where a legally-married couple could not legally divorce, because the Divorce Act didn’t include gays and lesbians in the definition of spouse, something the federal Justice Department admitted within 24 hours of the divorce petition becoming public was unconstitutional.

While the lawyer for one of the women (the couple is only identified by their initials in court documents) was quoted as saying “it’s absurd to say it’s legal to get married, but not divorced,” adding that same-sex divorce was an “important step when we talk about the legal landscape,” she also insisted to reporters at the time the couple had simply realized their marriage was a mistake (in the personal, not political or moral, sense) and had come to the conclusion there was “no reasonable possibility of reconciliation.”

“They ironically believed marriage would solve their problems,” said lawyer Martha McCarthy.

If true, it’s almost sweet in its naiveté, and an indication that now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land, gay and lesbian couples will be getting married for many of the same dumb reasons straight couples have for years been using as justification. Anything from “we just went to Niagara Falls to gamble and got caught up in the moment,” to “I know he/she is a pathological liar with a rap sheet as long as my arm, but I know I can change him/her.” Faced with the prospect of a whole new set of clientele, divorce lawyers across the country are rubbing their hands in anticipation.

The second weakest argument against same-sex marriage has been that marriage has always been the propriety of the church, and only the church should be allowed to set the rules as to who can and who can’t come to the party. Romeo and Juliet were denied marital bliss because their families didn’t see any political advantage in it. It’s another of Shakespeare’s “ripped from the headlines” stories, as the idea of someone from one family (tribe or village) marrying someone from another family (tribe or village) strictly in order to consolidate power and wealth has existed since the time wearing a dead animal on your back was necessary for survival and not a fashion statement. The idea of going to a church to formalize the whole thing didn’t occur to anyone until a few hundred years ago.

The weakest argument is that only those in male/female relationships have the moral fortitude to make marriage work. In a country where the annual divorce rate in the first 30 years of marriage hovers around 40 percent—cutting across all ethnic and religious lines—and many people routinely marry two or three times, vowing over and over before God and/or witnesses that this time for sure they’ll love, honour and obey, no one can really stake a claim on the sanctity of the act. In 2003 (the most recent stats available) almost 71,000 divorces took place in Canada, 1,900 of them here in Nova Scotia. That’s 142,000 heterosexuals who can no longer claim they know what the hell a good and proper marriage is.

Brent Day, who has for a couple of years compiled Canada’s divorce statistics while working in Stats Canada’s Health Statistics Division, says he fully expects same-sex divorce rates to become part of the compilation.

“We will be tracking same-sex marriage, so we will probably track same-sex divorce,” says Day, adding that the information is gathered by provincial courts and forwarded to the federal Justice Department to be processed by Stats Canada. “I’m not sure to what extent same-sex divorce has been integrated into the forms the courts fill out across the country, but I imagine we’ll be trying to gather that information, because we’re definitely doing it on the marriage side. For the first few years it may just be a footnote, if the numbers are really low.”

While the legislative ink on same-sex marriage is still too fresh for statistics to be compiled in this country, the Netherlands, which has had legal same-sex marriage since 2001, recently released that country’s marriage and divorce rates from that point up to the end of 2003. Of the 243,000 opposite-sex marriages that took place there between April 2001 and December of 2003, 2,800, or slightly more than one percent, ended in divorce.

Of the 5,700 same-sex marriages over the same time period, 63 or (surprise, surprise) slightly more than one percent, ended in divorce.

Apparently, what gay and lesbian couples have always said can now be confirmed by the data — they’re just like everybody else, rolling the dice on true love. Now they’ve won the right to marry in Canada, the best thing the rest of us can do is wish them luck.

As Mr. Diamond knows oh so well, they’re going to need it.

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