Ontario Abandons Changes to the Marriage Act

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ontario abandons changes to the marriage act

The proposed Code of Practice for marriage officiants in Ontario’s Bill 213 has been abandoned.

In late October we talked about the Marriage Act and Bill 213. It would have added a Code of Practice and modified the terms on which the government minister could cancel the registration of a person authorized to solemnize marriage.

On December 8, the bill received Royal Assent (Royal Assent means that the bill has been passed by the Legislative Assembly, is signed by the Lieutenant Governor, and has become a statute. In other words, it is no longer a bill but a law).

If you look at the final version of the bill, you will see that there is no mention of the Marriage Act. What happened? The committee reviewing the bill struck out – that is, erased – all of the proposed amendments to the Marriage Act. The committee’s amendments were accepted when the bill was passed. That means they were not part of the bill when it became law. That’s a positive outcome.

But let’s take just a moment to reflect on comments made in debate at third reading which took place the committee made its amendments. During debate it was argued that a Code of Practice would have simply required officiants to “adhere to” or uphold the Ontario Human Rights Code (HRC) and that target of the Code of Practice was “’fly-by-night’ marriage officiants” who had allegedly “been denying to oversee a same-sex marriage.”

There are a few issues here. First, the HRC does indeed already protect against discrimination in services on the grounds of sexual orientation. We have a HRC to receive, review and remedy complaints of discrimination. A Code of Practice is therefore redundant.

Second, if that was the intention behind Code of Practice, there’s a very real likelihood it would, itself, violate the HRC. Why? The HRC specifically allows a person to decline solemnizing a marriage if it’s contrary to that person’s religious beliefs, and if that person is registered as part of a religious body or by the (government) Minister.

Third, with the exception of reference to the “fly-by-night” officiants, there was no apparent reason as to why the amendments were proposed; there was no identifiable or pressing concern that would be addressed.

In the end, it seems that the amendments were viewed as redundant – existing legislation and methods are sufficient to address any concerns.

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