Canada + US + marriage = messy?
February 20, 2011 6:59 AM   Subscribe

Talk to me about same-sex marriage in Canada between a citizen and a non-citizen. Rights, responsibilities, etc.

My accomplice and I have been together for over a decade. While vacationing in BC, I suggested making it legal.

He has dual US/Canadian citizenship, I have US citizenship. We both live full-time in Oregon. We'd most likely do the deed in BC because it's the closest province, but I'm not sure about the legal bits. Can we just go to the magistrate and get a licence and be done with it? Is there a waiting period? Are there any residency/occupation/time requirements?

I'm really not interested in an automatic ticket to the Commonwealth, but I'd also like to know my rights and responsibilities, should it happen. I have a good job with good benefits here in the States. I have no interest in immediate relocation or profiting from a system that I haven't paid into, but I admit dual citizenship is attractive to me.

I guess the ultimate question is this; we've been together since 1998. We are committed. What do we need to do to make it legal in Canada, and what should I as a US citizen expect as a result? As I said, I have no interest in gaming the system. This is more of a desire than a need. However, I need to know what to expect after legally marrying a Canadian citizen.
posted by geckoinpdx to Law & Government (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer specifically about what it takes to get married in BC if you don't live here. But I will tell you that there's no "automatic ticket to the Commonwealth". Since you've lived together for ten years, you can already apply for Permanent Residence in Canada under the spousal class (by far the easiest class to immigrate under), since Canada considers common-law relationships equivalent to marriages for this purpose if you've been together for at least a year. Once you have permanent residence, you can apply for Canadian citizenship after living in Canada for 3 years. These days citizens of Commonwealth countries don't really have an easier time immigrating to other Commonwealth countries than anyone else.
posted by Emanuel at 7:48 AM on February 20, 2011

I'll also add that just being married to a Canadian doesn't give you any special privileges like access to the medical system. That's completely based on residence; even a Canadian citizen who lives outside Canada won't have access.

PS this page says that "You do not have to be a British Columbia resident to be married in the province. However, you are required to get a Marriage Licence which is valid for a term of three months and only valid in British Columbia."
posted by Emanuel at 7:55 AM on February 20, 2011

We're both Americans, both women, and got legally married in Vancouver, BC in 2005.

We found a marriage commissioner online, corresponded via email, and she married us when we were there. We applied for a marriage license, which was dead easy. She filled out the relevant bits at the time of the ceremony (I think I'm remembering that right) and filed the paperwork afterwards. There are no residency requirements.

Can't answer your questions regarding emigration/immigration, but I do know that my Canadian friends joked that it was too bad we were now married to each other, as we'd have to divorce in order to marry one of them should we wish to emigrate to Canada!
posted by rtha at 7:57 AM on February 20, 2011

Afaik, marrying any country's citizen will only ever buy you the work visa & residency permit, citizenship, passport, etc. will always require more, like actual residency.

You should verify how marriage will effect you & your spouse's tax status, both in the U.S. and Canada, but most likely any change will be minimal. Does Canada even make it's citizens living abroad file Canadian taxes like the U.S.?

If you hold a security clearance, there are further complications with marrying foreign nationals, even when they hold U.S. nationality too, like your boyfriend.
posted by jeffburdges at 8:02 AM on February 20, 2011

I don't know anything about how to go about this, but I do know that Dan Savage and his partner (ie Seattle residents) did this in Vancouver in 2005. He writes more on this in one of his books, but I can't remember offhand which one.
posted by cgg at 9:53 AM on February 20, 2011

A bit more information about Canadian Citizenship - as Emanuel stated, the only way to gain Canadian citizenship is to apply for permanent residence and live in Canada for three years. If you did chose to do this, your partner would need to sponsor you, AND they would need to move back to Canada with you. If they apply to sponsor you while still living in the States, and the government suspects that they aren't planning on moving with you to Canada, they won't approve your visa.

Another thing not everyone realizes - while you can maintain your permanent resident status and still spend half of each year outside of Canada, you must spend 3-years actually in the country before applying for citizenship. So if you are living here and leave the country for anything longer than a day, that time gets tacked on to the waiting period (Ie - a three day trip out of Canada means that you have to wait three years plus three days to apply for citizenship.)
posted by scrute at 10:26 AM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dual Canadian/American citizen & queer here. I think people above have answered most of your questions:

-Unlike the US, there's no such thing as a "fiance visa" or any sort of penalties if you hop across the border to get hitched. In view of the Canadian Gov't, you are already "married" to your partner with all rights and responsibilities of that, because you're common-law. As long as you have documentation that you've lived together for more than 1 year, such as a lease with both your names, you could start the immigration process. I know queer couples who've immigrated as common-law without ever getting legally married.

-Canada doesn't give health care coverage to citizens living abroad, or require them to pay taxes. Both are based on residing in a province.

-Anyone, Canadian or not, can get married in Canada.

-Similar to the US, the immigration process is annoying and involves lots of waiting, paying fees, and answering invasive questions about your relationship. Take lots of wedding-y photos if you do get married... if you ever decide to start the immigration process, the immigration officer will ask to see them.

-If you do immigrate, your partner will be required to sign documents promising to financially support you if you lose your job, for 7 (or 5, can't remember) years. Just an FYI.
posted by 100kb at 10:55 AM on February 20, 2011

Go to the Citizenship and Immigration canada website, find the spousal sponsorship section. The short answer is that since a Canadian supreme court decision, same-sex couples are eligible in exactly the same way as different-sex couples for spousal sponsorship. There is no such thing as a fiancee visa in Canada. Once you can prove you're married and in an ongoing, steady relationship you can file the IMM0008E and associated paperwork.
posted by thewalrus at 11:54 AM on February 20, 2011

-If you do immigrate, your partner will be required to sign documents promising to financially support you if you lose your job, for 7 (or 5, can't remember) years. Just an FYI.

It's actually 3 years currently. And you have to sign that you'll make a reasonable attempt to stay employed. If you collect social assistance during that period, your partner will be responsible for paying it back to the government.
posted by scrute at 3:32 PM on February 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

All you need to do to make your marriage legal in BC (and Canada) is the following:

Get a license
. Only one of you needs to be there in person to make the application. You'll have to provide IDs confirming both of your full legal names, birth dates, and places of birth. You'll also have to pay $100. There's no waiting period, you'll get your license on the spot, and it will be valid for 3 months.

You then have to arrange for someone to perform the ceremony. Religious officiants must be registered with the Vital Statistics Agency. Civil officiants must be appointed marriage commissioners. For a civil ceremony, the fee is $75 + 12% HST + reimbursement to the marriage commissioner for travel costs (some of them will let you come to their house!).

Go here to search for a marriage commissioner. See the approved ceremony here. If you want to write your own vows, they must be approved by the marriage commissioner a week in advance of your ceremony, and note that the bolded parts are mandatory. You'll need two witnesses age 19 or older.

Your religious officiant or marriage commissioner will submit marriage registration form to the VSA and your legal marriage certificate will be issued to you upon registration.

That's it. Like others have stated above, you won't have any rights or responsibilities. You will be eligible to apply for a work or study permit, or to apply for permanent residence under the family class, but getting married to a Canadian doesn't automatically grant you any status in Canada. Likewise, you don't have to worry about paying Canadian taxes unless you are actually resident in Canada.

Your Canadian spouse will have to be resident in Canada to sponsor you (there are exceptions, but I believe they have to do with your spouse being in the Canadian military or being an employee of the Canadian government and being posted in a foreign country). There are two ways to do this. If you move to Canada with your spouse, you will make an application for PR in Canada. If your spouse resides in Canada without you, you will use this application package.

You will have to be resident in Canada for at least 3 years before being eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship. Please note that there are strict residency requirements. You must have lived in Canada for at least three years (1,095 days) in the past 4 years before applying. You can count the time you spent in Canada before you became a PR if it falls within the last 4 years, but you must have been a PR for at least 2 years before applying for citizenship.

"-If you do immigrate, your partner will be required to sign documents promising to financially support you if you lose your job, for 7 (or 5, can't remember) years."

Page 4 of the Application to Sponsor and Undertaking form states that the financial undertaking for a spouse, common-law partner or conjugal partner will end on the last day of the period of 3 years following the day on which they become a permanent resident.
posted by keep it under cover at 3:44 PM on February 20, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks very much, you've all been very helpful. The residency/citizenship part isn't really attractive at this point, especially as I'm the income provider. Looks like it's easier than I thought, so I guess now I'm on the hook...
posted by geckoinpdx at 6:58 PM on February 20, 2011

One thing I just thought of: make sure you bring proof that you'll be heading back to the US after the wedding (e.g. plane ticket home, mortgage or lease documents, proof of employment). Since you'd be marrying a Canadian citizen, you're likely to get some extra questioning at the border to determine whether you're planning to stay in Canada, and having this proof can make things go more smoothly.
posted by Emanuel at 9:22 AM on February 21, 2011

Response by poster: Good idea, thanks. I hadn't considered that.
posted by geckoinpdx at 10:50 PM on February 21, 2011

You should be aware there is a one year residency requirement to get a divorce in Canada and an American state that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage is unlikely to recognize same-sex divorce.
posted by angrybeaver at 9:42 PM on March 30, 2011

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