Law Connection: Current Issues in Law
Same Sex Marriage
When the citizens of a country decide that equality is a value that should be given effect in a constitutional document, then it is important to recognize that all members of the society can make a claim based on that value. It can’t just be applied to some citizens and not to others. During the past few months the media have monitored a debate between the members of Parliament, provincial politicians and the courts about extending equality rights to a minority group. Traditionally, legislators make the law in Canada and their authority to make law comes from the Constitution. All government-made laws must be consistent with the principles set out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The courts determine if there is an inconsistency in a law by reviewing challenges from people who are personally affected by that law. This issue of the Law Connection focuses on one such challenge. The response of the courts demonstrates the new approach to law-making that is one of the results of the enactment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
In the Backgrounder on Same Sex Marriage, Natasha Bone explains the historical view of marriage, the laws relating to marriage and the nature of the recent legal challenges to those laws. Understanding the decisions in those cases helps us appreciate the impact of existing laws that favour one group of people over another and encourages us to examine the full meaning of the right to equal treatment under the law. Sometimes the effect of creating laws that include everyone results in a clash between people with differing moral values and people use those values to justify resistance to changes in the law that accommodate the needs of a person who espouses different values.
The Supreme Court of Canada has reasoned that everyone’s fundamental rights should be protected and that concept is more important than giving preference to a particular point of view. They advocate tolerance and respect for the right for individuals to choose what they do, as long as that activity is not contrary to the law. Laws that restrict some people from doing what others are free to do infringe on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and can be overruled by the Court. The lesson application that accompanies this issue of the Law Connection is designed to help senior level students understand the distinction between tolerance and acceptance when dealing with controversial legal issues. Teachers of younger students may be able to adapt this discussion strategy to apply to issues relevant to them.
For more information and helpful links relating to same-sex marriage check out: www.egale.ca. The Canadian Bar Association has identified speakers who may be willing to speak to your class on this topic. Contact them at www2.vpl.vancouver.bc.ca/DBs/Redbook/orgPgs/2/2886.html. Westcoast LEAF deals with this issue from a women’s rights perspective. You can find out more by going to their website at www.westcoastleaf.org.