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Canada: same-sex marriages of non-residents not valid

The Canadian government has given notice that the same-sex marriages [JURIST news archive] performed in Canada between non-Canadian couples are invalid. This means that couples who came to Canada since 2004 to get married are not legally wed. The reversal is policy came to light when a lesbian couple who were wed in Toronto filed for divorce. They were told that they are not able to divorce because they were never legally married. The Canadian Department of Justice [official website] stated that such marriages are invalid and cannot be dissolved unless the couple's home country acknowledges same-sex marriage. After creating confusion based on this statement, Justice Minister Rob Nicholson gave an additional statement [news release] that he "will be looking at options to clarify the law so that such marriages performed in Canada can be undone in Canada." The government's stand has been criticized by many, including former prime minister Paul Martin [advocacy website] who said, "[w]e validated those marriages and you cannot retroactively invalidate marriages that you validated."

Although same-sex marriage is recognized across Canada, various provinces have interpreted rights in different ways. In October, a judge for the Queen's Court Bench of Alberta [official website] granted custody [JURIST report] of a child to a non-biological father who was a ex-partner of the biological father. In January, the Saskatchewan Court of Appeals [official website] ruled [JURIST report] that refusal by provincial marriage commissioners to marry same-sex couples is unconstitutional and thereby invalidated a proposed amendment to Saskatchewan's Marriage act of 1995 that would have allowed the commissioners to refuse to marry same-sex couples based on their religious beliefs.

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