Canada says marriages of foreign gays invalid

Thu Jan 12, 2012 4:47pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The government is abruptly arguing that the same-sex marriages of many foreigners who wed in Canada are not valid, a move that stunned the gay community and could affect thousands of couples.

In 2005, Canada became one of the first nations in the world to formally legalize gay marriage. Same-sex couples have been marrying in their thousands in Canada, and lenient rules on residency requirements for those seeking a marriage license mean many of them are from abroad.

Ottawa now says many, if not all, the unions involving foreign residents are invalid. It made the argument in a case where two women, one from England and the other from Florida, sought a divorce after their 2005 Canadian marriage.

The government's position has prompted sharp questions about why Ottawa allowed so many foreign same-sex couples to get married for so long before deciding the unions were not valid.

"(This) is about to, if it hasn't already, make us look like fools on the international stage," said Martha McCarthy, a lawyer for the couple at the center of the furor.

"We're the leaders of gay marriage ... and the federal government is saying 'Oh, yes, sorry, we forgot to mention that for the last nine years we've been marrying people that we didn't think those were valid'," she told Reuters on Thursday.

Critics blamed the right-of-center Conservative government, which they say wants to roll back social rights such as gay marriage and abortion.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he was unaware of the case. Justice Minister Rob Nicholson said in a statement he would be "looking at options to clarify the law so that marriages performed in Canada can be undone in Canada".   Continued...