In almost the entire western Judeo-Christian world, marriage has long been considered the joining of a man and a woman in the “bonds of holy matrimony”. While marriage has become more of a legal and economic union since the changes in divorce law started in the 1960s, there has not been much change in its being a union between a man and a woman. Challenges to this status were begun by the Gay Rights movement in the 1990s, but these challenges were usually met with stiff opposition by the more religious elements of society. These conflicts were usually framed in the difference between civil rights and equality on the side of expanding the definition and morality and political/religious tradition on the side of maintaining the status quo.
In Ontario there has long been a two track system for marriages. One could go through the civil system and obtain a marriage licence through the local government. In a Toronto wedding, for example, one can obtain a marriage licence from City Hall or from four of the six civic centres in the city. All that is required is that you have identification (a wide range of forms are acceptable), be at least 18 (minors, 16 to 17, may marry with parental permission), and pay a fee of $130.00.
The religious alternative is to follow the tradition of posting banns. According to the Marriage Act of 1990, this requires that an announcement be made of the intended marriage during divine services according to the rules of the church. If both parties attend different churches, the banns must be published in both churches. Typically, church rules require that the announcements be made on three consecutive Sundays. This tradition allowed for the local society to decide if the marriage was appropriate. The age restrictions still apply. One unique restriction on this procedure is that for a Canadian married previously, whether the marriage was annulled or ended in divorce, cannot use the publishing of banns in lieu of getting a marriage licence. There are provisions for a previously married person to get a marriage licence.
In December, 2000 Rev. Hawkes of the Metropolitan Church of Toronto published the banns for two same sex couples and conducted the marriage ceremonies in early 2001. While the local government initially refused to honor these marriages, a subsequent law suit was settled by the Ontario Court of Appeals in favor of the newly married couples. Another ruling in 2003 decided that the local government could issue a marriage license to a same sex couple.
Today a same sex couple has the same options for a Toronto wedding as does the more traditional male-female couple. They may apply for a marriage licence through the local government offices or they may have their banns published in their local church. In either case, their Toronto wedding will be completely legal.