When is a marriage not civil?

Marriage, whether religious or not, is not fun and games to the government.
Marriage, whether religious or not, is not fun and games to the government. iStock.

Should the Quebec government nullify a marriage based on the grounds that it not be recognized as a civil union?

In the case A.D. c. G.M. et  La Procureure générale du Québec (French only) one Quebec man is making that argument.

A.D. claims that Quebec marriage law is not valid because it infringes on his charter rights to freedom of religion (under s. 118 of the Code Civil du Quebec marriages are to be given civil effect). He says that due to his Christian faith he had to get married in a religious ceremony in order to live with a partner but he doesn’t want the economic duties that flow from a legally recognized marriage. A.D. got married in a Catholic ceremony.

Do religious marriages not impose economic obligations, too?

A popular religious wedding vow also recited in Catholic ceremonies is: “To have and to hold, from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer

Do those words not imply that the parties are to care for each other economically as well as all the other ways?

That raises the question though: why do religious marriages even have to be civilly recognized?

The main reason is that marriage is seen as a “fundamental institution in Canadian society and the Parliament of Canada has a responsibility to support that institution”.

If the marriage is to be performed through a religious ceremony, not only do the parties still have to get a marriage license, but the religious official who marries the parties has to have received authorization from the government to perform marriages under the provincial/territorial marriage act, therefore ensuring that the marriage is recognized under law.

See: Marriage FAQ

However, A.D. also argues that people who are not religious have the option to live together in common law relationships in Canada, so why shouldn’t religious people be able to get married without the obligations imposed by a civil union?

There is one central weakness with his argument. Many provinces/territories have recognized common law relationships, especially where children result, as “marriage-like” relationships.

People involved in common law relationships also have rights and (economic) obligations to each other, although less than legally married couples. That means that spousal support often applies for people who separated and were in common law relationships, even if these relationships are not considered civil unions.

See: A primer on common law marriage rights in Canada

Though its true Quebec hasn’t recognized common law unions yet, it may only be a matter of time until it follows the other provinces.

Marriage, whether religious or not, is not fun and games to the government. So whether A.D. likes it or not it’s doubtful that this charter challenge will pass.

Find a Lawyer