This morning, reports from Canada caused a ripple of anxiety throughout the United States when a Canadian government attorney put forth the position that Canadian marriages of same-sex couples from places where same-sex marriage is not legal would not be considered valid in Canada, either. The issue arose when a lesbian couple sought a divorce in Canada. Neither of them lived in Canada when they married–one was from Britain and the other from Florida–and the government attorney argued that because the marriage would not be legal in either of those places, it is not legal in Canada, either, and therefore the women could not get a divorce.
Anyone who married in Canada and lives in a non-recognition state should take a deep breath, because your marriage is valid and likely to remain so. As stated in a press release issued by a consortium of LGBT legal groups today, “The position taken by one government lawyer in a divorce is not itself precedential. No court has accepted this view and there is no reason to believe that either Canada’s courts or its Parliament would agree with this position, which no one has asserted before or during the eight years that same-sex couples have had the freedom to marry in Canada.”
Moreover, Prime Minister Steven Harper insists that his government does not wish to reopen the debate over same-sex marriage, and he was apparently unaware of the argument made by the government attorney. However, the government is also intervening in an Ontario case by arguing that two Canadian men who entered into a same-sex civil partnership in the UK, a status which is legally equivalent to marriage, also can’t get a divorce in Canada because they are not legally married there.
Not having marriage equality sure does make things complicated. There will surely be more information forthcoming on this story, but for now, if you have a Canadian marriage, you are still married.