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Civil Marriage Act

Federal law implementing same-sex marriage across Canada
Civil Marriage Act
Parliament of Canada
Long title
  • An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes
CitationS.C. 2005, c. 33
Territorial extentCanada
Enacted byHouse of Commons of Canada
Enacted bySenate of Canada
Assented to21 July 2005
Commenced21 July 2005
Legislative history
Bill introduced in the House of Commons of CanadaBill C-38, 38th Parliament, 1st Session
Introduced byIrwin Cotler, Minister of Justice
First reading1 February 2005
Second reading4 May 2005
Third reading28 June 2005
Committee report16 June 2005
Bill introduced in the Senate of CanadaBill C-38
First reading29 June 2005
Second reading6 July 2005
Third reading19 July 2005
Committee report18 July 2005
Same-sex marriage
Status: Current legislation
Maple Leaf (from roundel).svg  Same-sex marriage in Canada
Canadian Provinces and Territories
Reference Re Same-Sex Marriage
Halpern v Canada (AG)
Civil Marriage Act
38th House · 38th Senate
39th House · 39th Senate
Same-sex marriage by province
Civil unions in Quebec
Adult interdependent relationship in Alberta
Domestic partnership in Nova Scotia
Common-law relationships in Manitoba

The Civil Marriage Act (full title: An Act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes) (the Act) was legislation legalizing same-sex marriage across Canada. At the time the bill became law, same-sex marriage had already been legalized by court decisions in all Canadian provinces except Alberta and Prince Edward Island, as well as in the territories of Nunavut and the Northwest Territories.

It was introduced as Bill C-38 in the first session of the 38th Parliament of Canada on February 1, 2005. It passed the House of Commons on June 28, 2005, and the Senate on July 19, 2005. The Act became law when it received Royal Assent on July 20, 2005.

As with all federal legislation in Canada, the Act is written in both French and English, with equal force. The French title is Loi sur le mariage civil, or in full, Loi concernant certaines conditions de fond du mariage civil.

The Act

This is the Act's official legislative summary:

This enactment extends the legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes to same-sex couples in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also makes consequential amendments to other Acts to ensure equal access for same-sex couples to the civil effects of marriage and divorce.

The short title of the act (Civil Marriage Act) is defined in Section 1. Sections 2 through 4 form the substance of the Act, and were the key points of contention during its debate in the House of Commons and the Senate. Section 3.1 was added with an amendment during the committee stage and was subsequently adopted by the House of Commons.

Marriage - certain aspects of capacity
2. Marriage, for civil purposes, is the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others.
Religious officials
3. It is recognized that officials of religious groups are free to refuse to perform marriages that are not in accordance with their religious beliefs.
Freedom of conscience and religion and expression of beliefs
3.1 For greater certainty, no person or organization shall be deprived of any benefit, or be subject to any obligation or sanction, under any law of the Parliament of Canada solely by reason of their exercise, in respect of marriage between persons of the same sex, of the freedom of conscience and religion guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the expression of their beliefs in respect of marriage as the union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others based on that guaranteed freedom.
Marriage not void or voidable
4. For greater certainty, a marriage is not void or voidable by reason only that the spouses are of the same sex.

The remaining sections are "consequential amendments" that simply adjust the wording of existing acts to conform to this one.


As a government bill, C-38 represented the official position of Paul Martin's Liberal government and the cabinet were thus bound to vote in its favour. Liberal backbenchers and members of the Conservative Party and Bloc Québécois had a free vote. In accordance with its party policy on LGBT rights, the New Democratic Party (NDP) whipped its members in favour. Bev Desjarlais defied the whip and was removed from her critic position. (She was not nominated for the next election by her riding association, and subsequently chose to sit as an independent for the remainder of the session.) Conservatives tended to vote against the Act, while Bloquistes tended to vote in favour. At least two cabinet ministers stepped down to vote against the bill. Joe Comuzzi resigned just hours before the final vote on the Act, and Martin lamented his leaving. As expected, Comuzzi voted against the Act.

The composition of Parliament was such that the prevailing opinion among political commentators indicated the bill would likely pass the House (see a detailed analysis at members of the 38th Canadian Parliament and same-sex marriage). Although there was some challenge to it, this opinion was verified with a 158-133 vote at third reading in the House of Commons on June 28. The bill passed in the Senate on July 19, with a 47-21 vote, with three abstentions.

The legislative process

The bill was given its first reading on February 1, 2005, after its introduction by Justice minister Irwin Cotler. C-38 was written on the basis of a draft bill produced by then-Justice minister Martin Cauchon in 2003, which had been submitted to the Supreme Court of Canada in December 2004 as the reference question Re: Same-Sex Marriage.

Due to the government's tenuous minority position, there was a strong possibility that the government could have fallen on a motion of confidence through the budget bills, causing the bill to die on the order paper. It would then have been up to a new post-election government to re-introduce the bill affirming same-sex marriage (or to introduce a bill, of uncertain constitutionality, defining marriage as one man and one woman). However, the government survived the last of the budget votes on June 23, 2005, and successfully passed a motion to extend the current sitting of Parliament. In order to pass the motion extending the session, the Liberals provided a written promise to the Bloc Québécois that they would bring C-38 to a vote before the end of the current session.

Finally, on June 28, the Act was passed on third reading by the House of Commons; 158 voting in favour, 133 voting against. On July 19, it passed the Senate by a 47-21 vote with three abstentions and received royal assent (thereby becoming law) on July 20.

A summary of the legislation's progress is given below.

StageHouse of CommonsSenate
Introduction and First Reading1 February 2005June 29
Second Reading DebateFebruary 16 to May 4July 4 to 6
Second ReadingMay 4July 6
Committee NameSpecial Committee on Bill C-38Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs
Committee StageMay 5 to June 15July 11 to 14
Committee ReportJune 16July 18
Debates at Report StageJune 27-
Report Stage VoteJune 28-
Third Reading DebateJune 28July 19
Third Reading and PassageJune 28July 19
Royal AssentJuly 20


House of Commons

Result of the third and final reading of Bill C-38 in the House of Commons


Royal Assent

Other topics

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Civil Marriage Act, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License (view authors).

Date of last edit: 2021-01-28T19:50:09.000Z