Same-Sex Marriage in Canada

Marriage between two partners of the same gender became legal in Canada on 20 July 2005.

Rainbow graffiti Montreal
This rainbow mosaic is painted on a brick wall in the gay quarter of Montreal and signifies gay pride.

Same-Sex Couples

In 2001, Statistics Canada began collecting information about same-sex partnerships. At that time, about 0.5 per cent of all Canadian couples reported living in same-sex unions.

After same-sex marriage became available on 20 July 2005, the 2006 census was the first to collect data on legally married same-sex couples. It showed there were more than 45,000 declared same-sex couples in the country, and that 16.5 per cent of those were married.

By the time of the 2016 census, there were 72,880 declared same-sex couples — 0.9 per cent of the total number of couples — and 33.4 per cent of those same-sex couples were married. That represents a tripling in the number of married, same-sex unions across the country between 2006 and 2016.

Legalization of Marriage

Canada was the fourth country to permit same-sex marriages, after the Netherlands (2000), Belgium (2003) and Spain (2005).

While marriage itself falls under federal jurisdiction in Canada, the provinces regulate the solemnization of marriage (the formal ceremony that is either civil or religious) and grant marriage licenses. In 2003, Ontario and British Columbia became the first two provinces to legalize the licensing of same-sex marriage. Since then, all the provinces have recognized same-sex marriages. In 2005, the federal Civil Marriage Act came into force, making same-sex marriage legal across Canada. This change required that definitions for husband and wife be amended to spouse. The Income Tax Act also replaced the term natural parent with legal parent to ensure that upon divorce, support payments would include the children of both opposite-sex and same-sex couples (see Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Rights in Canada).

Although some religious denominations endorse same-sex marriage, others do not. The Supreme Court has ruled that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a religious official cannot be legally compelled to perform same-sex marriages if it is contrary to their religious beliefs. At the same time, government does have a duty to provide access to civil marriage (as opposed to a religious marriage ceremony) for those same-sex couples who want to marry (see also Marriage in Canada).


Originally it was difficult to determine the full number of same-sex marriages in particular regions because some of the provinces did not specify, in their licensing documents, the genders of the people getting married. However, some provinces did collect this information.

During British Columbias first year of legalized same-sex marriages, 3.5 per cent of the marriages were same-sex marriages and of these, 54.5 per cent were female couples. More than one-quarter (27.6 per cent) included women who had previously been married, while 14.2 per cent included men who had had previously been married.

In 2003, Canada was the only country in the world that allowed same-sex marriages between people who were not Canadian residents, and during that year, 5 per cent of the same-sex marriages involved non-residents, although the vast majority (95 per cent) did live in Canada.

Same-Sex Marriage by Province and Territory


10 June 2003

British Columbia

8 July 2003


19 March 2004


14 July 2004


16 September 2004

Nova Scotia

24 September 2004


5 November 2004

Newfoundland and Labrador

21 December 2004

New Brunswick

23 June 2005

Alberta, Prince Edward Island,

Nunavut and Northwest Territories

20 July 2005 (Civil Marriage Act)

Further Reading

  • Julien D. Payne & Marilyn A. Payne, Canadian Family Law, 4th ed. (2011)