Foreigners are flocking to Canada to have legal same-sex marriages, according to a new report that shows more than half of recorded gay weddings involved couples from abroad.
Statistics Canada data on 2003 nuptials, which included gay couples for the first time in Canadian history, found 3.5% of the 22,000 marriages in British Columbia were between people of the same sex. And nearly 56% of those were non-residents of Canada.
"Gay and lesbian couples have been coming to Canada since the laws changed in 2003, especially to the big cities," said Kaj Hasselriis, executive director of Egale Canada. "It's a positive thing for couples who want to be legally married, and it's a positive thing for Canada because it enhances our reputation as a country that is very open and progressive."
Hasselriis said the positive trend is also a boon for Canada's economy, creating a niche tourism industry for gay marriages and honeymoons.
At the time the data was collected, Canada was the only country in the world that allowed same-sex marriages between people who weren't residents. While the marriage is often not legally recognized in the couple's home country, Hasselriis said it is symbolically important for them.
Many have used their marriage in Canada to try to advance their legal fight in their own countries, including Israel and Ireland.
But Brian Rushfeldt, executive director of the Canadian Family Action Coalition, called it a "misuse of a system" for foreign gay couples to use Canada in a bid to shape their own country's laws.
"To me, it's unconscionable. Why is Canada issuing marriage licences to people from another country?" he asked. "We wouldn't issue a business licence to a company that had no intention of staying in the country."
StatsCan also found the total number of marriages in Canada has reached a plateau after a flurry at the turn of the millennium. Numbers have plummeted to 4.7 in 1,000 from 10.9 in 1,000 in the 1940s -- a downward trend Rushfeldt lamented as "very unfortunate."