Same-sex marriage in Newfoundland and Labrador has been legal since December 21, 2004, when the province was ordered by the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. This decision followed similar cases in seven other provinces and territories, and pre-dated by seven months the federal Civil Marriage Act of 2005, which legalised same-sex marriage throughout Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador became the eighth jurisdiction in Canada to legalise same-sex marriage, and the eleventh worldwide.

Court ruling

On November 4, 2004, two lesbian couples who had been denied marriage licences (Jacqueline Pottle and Noelle French, and Lisa Zigler and Theresa Walsh) filed a lawsuit, Pottle et al v. Attorney General of Canada et al, against the federal and provincial governments, requesting that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador be ordered to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples. Newfoundland and Labrador thus became the eighth of Canada's thirteen provinces and territories to have such a lawsuit filed. The Government of Canada had recently ceased to oppose such lawsuits. The Provincial Government also did not oppose the lawsuit;[1][2] the provincial Attorney General, Tom Marshall, announced that his office would not oppose the suit.[3][2] The case began on December 13, and was heard starting on December 20, 2004.[1]

Justice Derek Green of the Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador took only one day to decide to follow the precedents from the other provinces and Yukon and ordered that same-sex couples be issued marriage licences, thus making same-sex marriage legal in Newfoundland and Labrador. Attorney General Marshall indicated that the government would comply immediately. Celebrating the ruling, French said, "It means so much for us to be able to marry right here in Newfoundland, rather than having to travel to another province. Now my parents will be able to come to our wedding. I can't tell you how happy that makes me. We're getting married this Thursday, right here in St. John's. We're so honored that Mayor Wells will be performing our ceremony." Ms. Pottle and Ms. French were married on December 23 by Andy Wells, Mayor of St. John's.[4][5]

However, some officiants, including mayors Claude Elliott of Gander and Jerry Dean of Botwood, said that they would refuse to officiate at such ceremonies.[5] The Provincial Government warned its civil marriage commissioners, such as mayors or justices of the peace, that they must perform these marriages or resign, as the marriages are now legal.[5] This mirrored an earlier move by the Manitoba Provincial Government. This was widely criticised by conservative and fundamentalist Christian groups.[6] Desiree Dichmont, a marriage commissioner, resigned from her post following the legalisation of same-sex marriage in the province, citing her religious beliefs. She later filed a complaint with the province's human rights commission arguing that she had been unfairly discriminated against because of her religion. The commission determined in 2015 that the province had been justified in terminating her appointment. Dichmont died in 2016, age 90, and lawyers representing her estate appealed the decision. In January 2021, Supreme Court Justice Vikas Khaladkar ruled in favour of the human rights commission and agreed that the Provincial Government had the right to require her to resign unless she agreed to perform marriages to all couples. Khaladkar ordered Dichmont's estate to pay costs to the province and the human rights commission.[7]

Gordon Young, an evangelical pastor of the First Assembly Church of St. John's, asked the Newfoundland and Labrador Court of Appeals in February 2005 to allow him to appeal the ruling that legalized same-sex marriage. His case did not proceed.[2]

Provincial legislation

In April 2002, the Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly approved amendments to the Adoption Act to allow same-sex couples to adopt children jointly.[8]

In May 2009, the House of Assembly amended the Marriage Act by replacing references to "husband and wife" with the gender-neutral term "spouses".[9] The legislation was given royal assent by Lieutenant Governor John Crosbie on May 28, 2009. Further legislation passed in December 2009 replaced references to "husband and wife" and "a man and a woman" with "spouses" and "two persons" in other acts, namely the Family Law Act.[10]

Marriage statistics

The 2016 Canadian census showed that there were 690 same-sex couples living in Newfoundland and Labrador.[11]

In 2006, Kim and Jennifer Oliver, a same-sex couple from Nunatsiavut, had to change the date and location of their marriage due to local protests and opposition. The couple were married in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.[12]

Religious performance

In July 2019, the synod of the Anglican Church of Canada passed a resolution known as "A Word to the Church", allowing its dioceses to choose whether to perform same-sex marriages. In September of that same year, Bishop Geoff Peddle of the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland and Labrador sanctioned requests from several local parishes to perform same-sex marriages; among them, the St. Michael and All Angels Church in St. John's.[13] The Diocese of Western Newfoundland held a special synod meeting to discuss the matter in September 2019 and voted by 94 percent to perform same-sex marriages. The measure includes a freedom of conscience clause for clergy opposed to performing the marriages, but non-consenting clergy "will do a non-biased, affirming referral to the regional dean or the archdeacon and we will find a priest that will go and do that wedding", said Bishop John Organ.[14] Likewise, the Diocese of Central Newfoundland has allowed its parishes to perform same-sex marriages since November 2019 after its synod voted by a 87 percent majority in favour at a meeting on 27 October 2019. The move was welcomed by Bishop John Watton.[15]

See also


  1. ^ a b " - Corner of Hollywood and Gay". Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  2. ^ a b c Same-sex marriage in Canada: Newfoundland and Labrador
  3. ^ " - Corner of Hollywood and Gay". Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  4. ^ " - Corner of Hollywood and Gay". Retrieved 2014-04-05.
  5. ^ a b c Same-sex ultimatum given to commissioners
  6. ^ "Newfoundland and Labrador government was blasted for allowing same-sex marriage". Saltwire. 12 February 2019.
  7. ^ Bradbury, Tara (29 January 2021). "Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court rules marriage commissioner didn't have the right to discriminate against same-sex couples". The Telegram.
  9. ^ "CHAPTER M-1.02 AN ACT RESPECTING MARRIAGE IN THE PROVINCE". Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  10. ^ "CHAPTER 31 AN ACT TO AMEND THE LAW WITH RESPECT TO THE DEFINITION OF SPOUSE". Newfoundland and Labrador House of Assembly. Retrieved February 12, 2016.
  11. ^ "Families, households and marital status: Newfoundland and Labrador".
  12. ^ "ᐅᐱᒍᓱᖃᕐᓂᖅ ᓄᓇᑦᓯᐊᕗᒻᒥ, Pride in Nunatsiavut" (PDF). February 2016.
  13. ^ Kelly, Janelle (30 September 2019). "'Long past time,' Anglican priest says of permission to perform same-sex marriage". CBC News.
  14. ^ "Western Newfoundland Anglican Church to allow performing of same-sex marriage". CBC News. 7 September 2019.
  15. ^ "Bishop's Authorizations and Guidelines concerning Marriage Equality in the Diocese of Central Newfoundland" (PDF). November 2019.