Same-Sex Marriage in Canada: A Quick Timeline

Same-sex marriage has come a long way in the last few decades
Credit: Nick Karvounis | Unsplash

Same-sex rights have come a long way in Canada. Canada, being the 4th country in the world to legalize gay marriage, has always been a pioneer when it comes to gay rights. Today, homosexual Canadians enjoy a great deal of freedom and social acceptance, but it was a long road to getting to where the country is now. It took plenty of time, several debates, and finally, a major push from the public before the Civil Marriage Act was passed in 2005. 

Here’s a rough timeline of some of the major milestones on the road to same-sex marriage:


Justice Minister Pierre Trudeau made an amendment to the Criminal Code to decriminalize homosexuality. 


Quebec included sexual orientation in its Human Rights Code, making it the first province in Canada to pass a gay civil rights law. Under the new law, it became illegal to discriminate against anyone’s sexual orientation regarding employment, housing, and public accommodation. By 2001, most other provinces would take similar steps and adopt the law (save Alberta, Prince Edward Island, and the Northwest Territories). 


The Parliamentary Committee on Equality Rights released a report titled Equality for All. The report details the discrimination then faced by homosexuals, including harassment, violence, and physical abuse. Based on their findings, the committee recommended amending the Canadian Human Rights Act to make it illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation. In 1986, the government released a paper titled Toward Equality announcing a dedication to making sure that “sexual orientation is a prohibited ground of discrimination in relation to all areas of federal jurisdiction.” 


Federal Justice Minister Kim Campbell introduced Bill C-108, which would add “sexual orientation” to the Canadian Human Rights Act. The bill passed during legal proceedings between Joshua Birch, a captain in the Canadian Air Force, against the government. Birch was denied promotions, postings, or further training after his superiors learned he was gay, leading him to turn to the courts and request changes to the Human Rights Act. The Ontario Court of Appeals ruled in Birch’s favour and ordered that failure to include sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act was discrimination. 

In 1999, the Supreme Court ruled same-sex couples should have the same benefits and obligations as heterosexual ones
Credit: JessBaileyStudio | Pixabay


The Supreme Court of Canada ruled that same-sex couples should have the same benefits and obligations as heterosexual couples, as well as equal access to benefits from social programs to which they contribute. The landmark decision upheld previous lower court rulings that ruled that the definition of spouse as man and woman under the Family Law Act was unconstitutional. 


In response to the ruling of 1999, Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s liberals introduced Bill C-23, giving same-sex couples who had lived together for more than a year the same benefits and obligations as heterosexual common-law couples. The bill affects 68 federal statutes related to a wide range of issues, including pension benefits, old age security, and the Criminal Code.


Bill C-38, titled Law on Civil Marriage, passed the final reading in the House of Commons and received royal assent shortly after on July 20. Under the new bill, marriage is defined as “the lawful union of two persons to the exclusion of all others,” extending civil marriage to conjugal couples of the same sex. 

Getting same-sex marriage legalized was quite the journey. Understanding how we got to where we are can go a long way toward helping us appreciate such successes better.