GLBT: Same-sex marriages of foreign couples not legal says Conservatives

The Harper government is being accused of taking away same-sex rights by “stealth” in light of a surprise government decision stating non-resident gay and lesbian couples who flocked to Canada to exchange vows really aren’t legally married after all.

“The narrow interpretation of the law shows that the Harper government is trying to take away same-sex rights by stealth, and Canadians need to know that the advances we thought were secure are now under threat from the Harper neo-conservatives,” Interim Liberal Leader Bob Rae told the Star Thursday.

According to news reports, thousands of same-sex marriages since 2004 involving couples from outside Canada are in limbo as result of a new position taken by the Conservative government. In a nutshell, government lawyers are arguing in court that if same-sex couples could not be legally married in their home country, then their Canadian wedding is not valid.

The revelation came when a lesbian couple — one from Florida and the other from the United Kingdom — married in 2005 filed for divorce in Toronto but was told by a Department of Justice lawyer that their marriage was not legal in Canada.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed Thursday to find out why the sudden change but assured reporters that it is not a sign that his government is reopening the same-sex marriage debate.

“I will admit to you that I am unaware of the details,” Harper said following a news conference in Halifax. “This is I gather a case before the courts where Canadian lawyers have taken a particular position based on the law … I will be asking officials to provide me more details on this particular case.”

“As I have said before we have no intention of opening or reopening this issue,” he said.

NDP MP Olivia Chow said that Canada used to be a “beacon of hope” for gay and lesbian couples wanting to get married but now it is a “a laughing stock.”

Chow said if federal lawyers win their argument, then effectively as many 15,000 non-residents who came to Canada to wed are not legally married.

“This shift in federal policy is one of several recent changes that highlight the Harper government’s paradoxical stance on gay rights in Canada,” said Megan Gaucher, a Queen’s University political studies PhD student.

“While the Harper government continues to use Canada’s progressive stance on gay rights to promote its human rights agenda abroad, it is simultaneously making it more difficult for non-Canadian gays and lesbians to enjoy these rights. Invalidating these marriages not only contradicts Canada’s international reputation, but also further reinforces the Harper government’s negative position on gay and lesbian rights, particularly in relation to the institution of marriage and family composition.”

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