Same-sex marriage in the Northwest Territories

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Same-sex marriage is legal in the Northwest Territories. The Canadian territory began granting marriage licences to same-sex couples on July 20, 2005 upon the granting of royal assent to the federal Civil Marriage Act.[1]

Legal proceedings[edit]

In December 2004, NWT Justice Minister Charles Dent stated the Government would not issue marriage licences to same-sex couples until a court ruling or federal legislation legalized them. However, he indicated that the territory would not contest any lawsuit on the subject, and would comply with such a ruling or law.

On May 20, 2005, a Yellowknife couple, Jason Perrino and Colin Snow, sued the Northwest Territories Government over the right to get married, saying that refusing them a licence is a violation of their Charter rights.[2] The territorial Supreme Court was supposed to hear the case on Friday, May 27, 2005; however, it was adjourned for some three weeks at the request of a couple who wanted intervenor status in the case to oppose same-sex marriage. Pro-"family" activists Ruby and Laurin Trudel of Yellowknife applied to intervene in the lawsuit. They had been members of Yellowknife's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada until it started to share communion and the pulpit with the United Church, a denomination which had begun blessing same-sex unions. The couple was granted intervenor status, and on June 17, 2005, CBC North reported that the intervenors had requested party status in the case. If it had been granted by the territorial Supreme Court, it would have given them more direct involvement in the case, and the right to appeal in the event the judge sided with the plaintiffs' request to allow same-sex marriage in the territory. The case was again put off again for nearly another three weeks, and was set to resume on July 6. On June 30, the financial support for the Trudels evaporated. Their lawyer withdrew his services. The Trudels decided to proceed alone, without legal representation.[3]

On July 6, Ruby Trudel, alone, testified before the Supreme Court. She apologized to the court for her lack of knowledge of court procedures, and said that she was not homophobic: "While we do not support, encourage or endorse their lifestyle, we hold nothing against them personally." She said that those who promote the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage have been "rendered voiceless at the federal level." Actually, the debates in the Canadian Senate were in full swing at that time. She expressed concern over the possibility of persecution of Christian clergy if same-sex marriage were to become legalized. She said: "If the application before this court were to succeed, there is every reason to believe that repercussions against people of conscience and religion....will soon begin to occur here also." They asked that the court not impose costs on them: "Costs incurred to this point already exceed our ability to pay."[4]

A ruling never came from the territorial Supreme Court, after royal assent of the Civil Marriage Act, which automatically struck down the territory's marriage law so it could include same-sex couples. The couple who challenged the Northwest Territory law were awarded $5,000 in legal fees to cover court costs, a judge ruled. On October 17, 2005, Supreme Court Justice Virginia Schuler ordered the Federal Government, and therefore Canadian taxpayers, to reimburse the plaintiffs for costs they incurred during their legal challenge.[4]

Territorial legislation[edit]

In June 2002, the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories approved amendments to the Adoption Act by allowing same-sex couples to adopt children jointly, and the Family Law Act by changing the definition of spouse to allow same-sex couples limited legal rights.[5] Further legislation was passed in March 2005.[6]

On March 7, 2017, the Legislative Assembly approved the Marriage Act. The Act defines marriage as "a voluntary union of two persons to the exclusion of all others", and uses gender-neutral language when referring to spouses.[7] It received royal assent on March 10, and went into effect on June 1, 2017.[8]


  1. ^ "Same-sex marriage in Northwest Territories". Kingston: Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 25 May 2005. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  2. ^ Wockner, Rex (2 July 2005). "Northwest Territories Gays Sue For Marriage". San Francisco Bay Times. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  3. ^ Same-sex marriage case delayed
  4. ^ a b SAME-SEX MARRIAGES (SSM) IN CANADA: Northwest Territories
  5. ^ "Act to Amend the Adoption Act and Family Law Act". Canadian Parliamentary Review. June 11, 2002. Retrieved February 11, 2016. 
  6. ^ "MODERNIZATION OF BENEFITS AND OBLIGATIONS ACT" (PDF). Northwest Territories Department of Justice. Retrieved February 11, 2016. 
  7. ^ Bill 13
  8. ^ Marriage Act

External links[edit]