Canada is among the first countries in the world to have extended legal rights to all couples.
The Marriage Equality stamp is the fourth stamp in a set of 10 that Canada Post is issuing to celebrate Canada’s 150th year since Confederation. The stamp honours the passing of the Civil Marriage Act, the federal legislation that made marriage equality the law across Canada.
With the passing of the act in 2005, Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first outside of Europe to extend to its citizens the right to marry the one they loved.
“When we won equal marriage, that was the moment the country said, ‘I understand and I accept you,” says former marriage equality activist Cicely McWilliam, regarding the passing of the legislation.
Today, with support continuing to grow across the globe, more than 20 countries have legalized same-sex marriage on the national level. However, for many in the LGBTQ community, the conversation around and the fight for equality continues.
The journey to equality
The Act was introduced as Bill C-38, on February 1, 2005. After it passed in the House of Commons and then the Senate, the bill received Royal Assent on July 20, 2005, and marriage equality officially became the law of the land.
The federal decision culminated after decades of debate in faith communities, conversations in private homes and, most significantly, a series of intense legal battles nationwide.
Those battles were related to another Canada 150 stamp theme – the patriation of the Constitution, and specifically the adoption of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982. With the Charter in effect, by the late 1990s, the community began to consistently win these court challenges.
In 1996, the federal government passed Bill C-33, which added sexual orientation to the Canadian Human Rights Act. Three years later, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same-sex couples should have the same benefits and obligations as opposite-sex common-law couples from social programs that they contribute to. A year later, Parliament passed Bill C-23, which made the Court ruling law.
Then in early 2001, LGBTQ activists would focus on winning the right to marry. While battles were occurring throughout provinces, one in Toronto would gain national media attention. After Rev. Brent Hawkes married two same-sex couples in a ceremony in Toronto, the City refused to issue marriage licences for these unions, which set off a series of high-profile court battles and public debate.
The legal battles concluded on June 10, 2003, when the Ontario Court of Appeal upheld a lower court ruling that prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying was a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Following the decision, Michael Leshner and Michael Stark were married in Toronto, the first same-sex couple to wed after the ruling.
Meanwhile, the court battles that had also been taking place across the country resulted in more provinces legalizing marriage equality: B.C. in July 2003, followed by Quebec, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia in 2004.
Two years later, on July 20, 2005, the Government of Canada passed the federal legislation that legalized marriage equality across the country.
Collectively the Canada 150 stamps highlight historic moments that have taken place in our nation over the past 50 years. Canada Post’s Stamp Advisory Committee, which includes historians, collectors and artists, selected these 10 milestones that together have helped shape the story of Canada.
Here are the other stamps unveiled so far as part of our Canada 150 program: