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Friday, 21 July, 2000, 06:10 GMT 07:10 UK
Gay marriage test in Canada

By Ian Gunn in Vancouver

The government of the Canadian province of British Columbia is asking its supreme court to declare whether gay and lesbian marriages are legal.

The move is in response to pressure from same sex couples to issue legal marriage certificates.

The province's attorney-general says that, before he does this, he wants the courts to make a clear and definitive ruling on the issue.

In Canada, marriage laws are set by the federal government in Ottawa but marriage licences are issued by the provincial authorities.

Two same sex couples in the province of British Columbia have recently applied for marriage licences. They maintain there is no law against it, but their provincial government is not quite so sure.

It has been hesitant to issue the licences because no government in Canada ever has - and it says the law is not absolutely clear.

Definitive ruling

So the minister responsible, Attorney-General, Andrew Petter, has asked the British Columbia Supreme Court for a legal ruling.

Following recent court decisions outlawing discrimination against gays and lesbians, Mr Petter says he expects the judge to rule that gay marriages are now legal in Canada.

If so, he says, his government will become the first to start issuing homosexual couples identical marriage certificates to those now given to heterosexual couples.

Gay rights groups are welcoming the move.

The political opposition in British Columbia and the Canadian federal government are saying little about the issue. Some conservative members of their parties remain opposed to same sex marriages.

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See also:

26 Apr 00 | Americas
Vermont's gays win parity
30 Mar 00 | Americas
US rabbis approve gay partnership
08 Mar 00 | Americas
California rejects gay marriage
12 Feb 00 | Americas
Canada unveils equality law for gays
01 Feb 99 | Europe
Protest at 'gay marriage' plans
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