In the past few years, there have been a series of court challenges and statutory changes in various jurisdictions across the country dealing with the rights and responsibilities of same-sex couples. One issue that has received a lot of media attention is the right of same-sex couples to marry.

Marriage and divorce are matters of federal jurisdiction, but the solemnization of marriage in a province is a matter of provincial jurisdiction.

In July, 2005, the federal Civil Marriage Act came into force. The Act defines marriage for civil purposes as "the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others."

Prior to July, 2005 (when the federal Civil Marriage Act came into force), some jurisdictions (including Alberta, Northwest Territories, Nunavut and Prince Edward Island) had refused to issue marriage licenses or solemnize the marriages of same-sex partners. It is unlikely that these jurisdictions will be able to continue to refuse to do so, although religious officials ought to be able to refuse. Similarly, it is unlikely that a province or territory would be able to deny to married partners of the same sex those rights already extended to married partners of the opposite sex. There are however, ReligiousObjections that have to be considered.

The very fact that a couple is married means that the partners automatically have certain legal rights and responsibilities. Two people who are cohabiting in a conjugal relationship (usually referred to as common-law partners, or as de facto spouses) may or may not have the same or similar legal rights and responsibilities as married partners. This depends on the jurisdiction and the legislation involved, and whether the partners entered into a domestic contract. The legislation in question may grant no rights or responsibilities to the common-law partner, or it may only grant it in certain cases, e.g. if the partners have lived together for a specified period of time, and/or if neither partner is married to someone else, etc.

A CommonLawPartner (or whatever term is used in the particular legislation) may or may not have the same rights and responsibilities as a married partner. For discussion of the various rights spouses and/or common-law partners might have in each jurisdiction, see your financial consultant or family law advisor.

Divorce is a matter of federal jurisdiction. The federal Divorce Act now defines "spouse" as "either of two persons who are married to each other," and thus applies to the breakdown of both opposite-sex marriages and same-sex marriages.

The purpose is to advise you of current developments, not to provide legal advice. You must consult a professional advisor for advice based on your specific circumstances.

This page is part of the GayFinance series.