by Benoit Hardy-Vallée
“We crossed the border from the United States to Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada in February 2002. It was an incredible experience and probably one of the most nerve wracking and happy occasions of my life. It didn’t take us long to settle into our new lives in Toronto. It’s a truly amazing city in a fantastic country that we’re proud to call home.”
Thus spoke a couple recounting their stories on ourlovematters.com. Him, American, and he, Venezuelan. This couple was facing a wrenching question: how to stay together? Under U.S. law, a marriage can only apply to the union of a man and a woman. The Venezuela-born partner, seeing his student visa expired soon, could no longer remain in the United States. Since they cannot be legally married, the couple had either to seek political asylum, or emigrate to Venezuela. But there was a third way – emigrate to a country where same-sex union is recognized and accepted, such as Canada.
A long journey
Until the 1960s, psychiatry considered homosexuality as a mental illness while the Catholic Church deemed it as sinful. Homosexuals had to hide their orientation unless they were willing to abandon careers in certain professions. While psychiatry now recognizes that sexual orientation is not deviant, the Church still sees it as another form of immorality. However, as religion today is no longer as central in our overall society, homosexuality is now part of Canadian life. There are still some forms of discrimination as well as conservative groups who oppose gay unions, but overall we can say that Canadian society is tolerant and open. There are now approximately 45,000 gay couples in Canada.
Not only can one live openly as a homosexual in Canada, one may also be married (not in the Catholic Church, however). De facto unions (common-law partners) of same sex couples have been recognized in Canada since 1999. In 2005 the country became the fourth to recognize same-sex marriages (although other provinces have recognized the right before). The Stephen Harper Conservative government tried to overturn the law in 2006, but the motion was defeated. Thus, since 2003, when the first gay wedding was celebrated in Ontario, more than 12,000 couples have said ‘yes’ for better or for worse. More than 15 percent of Canadian gay couples are married now.
Immigration and homosexuality
Same-sex Canadian couples therefore have the same rights as heterosexual couples. One of the rights (and this is what the couple mentioned at the beginning of the article lacked) is to sponsor their same-sex partner to immigrate in a Family Class sponsorship application. Common-law partners must prove the legitimacy of their union, and must live together for over a year, but these measures are the same as for heterosexual couples. Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) also recognizes gay marriages contracted outside Canada. Finally, CIC recognizes gay marriages or civil unions between Canadian citizens (or permanent residents) and immigrants. So a gay couple (partners or spouses), where only one of the member is Canadian, does not have to be separated for legal reasons, and a non-Canadian gay couple can immigrate to Canada. Legally and socially, love between people of the same sex is well accepted.
Besides the family class, it is also possible for homosexuals to immigrate to Canada (as a couple or alone) if one fears prosecution. Since 1993, sexual orientation can be grounds for asylum in the country. The problem however is that homosexual immigrants fleeing their country for fear of persecution may not dare admit their homosexuality to immigration or customs officers. As recounted in La Presse, Ali, a Lebanese immigrant, was incapable of giving the true reasons for his request for refugee status. He preferred to say that Hizbullah harassed him instead of saying he was homosexual, because of, as he said, “the habit of fear.” This creates another problem, however, both administrative and legal – how to distinguish real cases from phoney ones?
This issue will continue to be a problem for the government. In the meantime, let’s repeat it once again; Canada is a society where marriage, common-law partnership and love do not apply to only a man and a woman, but any two people who love each other.