A Superior Court judge has just declared that religious couples in Quebec can get married without all of the ramifications of a legal marriage. Basically, according to this judge, marriages in which civil criteria are not met are not real marriages. In fact, she ruled that they never have been, and the implications are quite significant.
Now, I’m not a lawyer, but despite the fact that the French media is having a field day, I still can’t seem to find much in English ever since the verdict was rendered, on Monday. Therefore, I will try and explain, to the best of my ability.
A few years ago, there was a high profile case known as Eric & Lola which reinforced the fact that Quebec is one of the last strongholds in North America that does not recognize legal rights such as alimony, between common-law partners. As far as I know, just about anywhere else in North America, if you live with your partner for a couple of years, then the laws governing marriage spouses automatically apply. Hence, you might as well get married, even if you make more than your significant other.
Then again, some places aren’t quite so progressive and are still known to systematically discriminate. So, if you’re a woman who makes considerably more than your partner, but you still want to get married, than you don’t have much to worry about. Nevertheless, there are more and more places where judges are known to treat men and women equally, so it might still be a little risky for a woman to tie the knot. That being said, it generally doesn’t make a difference.
However, that’s not so in Quebec, where Eric’s lawyers established — no marriage, no alimony. Despite the secularization of society known as the Quiet Revolution, Quebec is still quite Catholic, which might explain why couples who “live in sin” aren’t awarded alimony upon separation. Nevertheless, statistics clearly demonstrate that Quebecois women value their freedom and integrity much more than alimony.
Anyhow, this ruling wouldn’t have had much implications elsewhere since union terms are not really what counts but rather, living together as a couple. But in Quebec, where common-law partnerships do not automatically constitute a form of marriage, the only ramifications of a religious wedding, according to this judge, are those which are agreed upon by the couple. Which, from a entirely secular point of view, makes complete sense.
Now, I can’t speak for other religions, but as far as Judaism goes, there are very specific obligations that come with a marriage. It’s not like either person is getting out of having spousal obligations. Therefore, why should a God-fearing person add to (or subtract from) these obligations by involving the government, if they don’t have to?
In fact, that’s pretty much the logic which led to this ruling. The lawyers argued that secular people can be together without involving the government, here in Quebec. But if an observant person wants to live with their partner, than having a ritual to mark the union automatically obligates them to volumes of legalities which only a jurist can decipher. In other words, secular couples can opt out, whereas religious couples cannot. That, they argued, is a form of discrimination.
What I don’t understand is what exactly constitutes common-law partners? For example, what if two roommates share everything and even have relations, but don’t technically consider themselves a couple, can one later demand alimony? What if one roommate assumes that they are a couple and the other doesn’t think so? Is physical intimacy really the primary, determining factor between two best friends living together and common-law partners? And what if the roommates are of the same sex? In any case, these questions are a whole other story.
The point here was, why should religious couples be obligated in matters that secular couples aren’t? Why should an “understanding” officiated by someone be any different than one agreed upon in private? Furthermore, Jews technically don’t even need a rabbi, so if a couple were to get married on their own, at the park, would that even count as a religious ceremony?
Regardless, this is great news for religious couples and anyone else who doesn’t want the government regulating their relationships. It is an important step towards freedom and liberty, especially in an age when governments are increasingly intrusive and overbearing. And, it goes without saying that this has absolutely nothing to do with child support.
Nonetheless, aside from the technical nightmare for jurists, even fewer people will be getting legally married from now on, if this sticks. So, we can certainly expect vehement opposition from politicians since it is going to cost Quebec’s divorce industry a lot of money in the long run. Moreover, we have yet to see how this ruling will affect the other provinces, not to mention international law.
Of course, it’s not just the lawyers and politicians who are upset. The Catholic Church is also opposed since they obviously don’t want a free-for-all and many feminists are also up in arms, despite the fact that more and more women are the ones stuck paying alimony and that the traditional application of alimony is based on sexist, social constructs. As Simone de Beauvoir stated, “No woman should be authorized to stay at home to bring up her children. Society should be totally different. Women should not have that choice, precisely because, if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one. It is a way of forcing women in a certain direction.” Nevertheless, people will rationalize just about anything when money is involved.
Well, this is obviously far from over but, in the meanwhile, it’s good news for a lot of people.