Same-sex unions legal across Canada
While nine provinces and territories already allowed the unions, the highly controversial Bill C-38 will have a profound impact on the Northwest Territories.
The law, which jumped its final legislative hurdle Wednesday when it received royal assent, will allow same-sex couples across the North to marry in churches and town halls.
Members of gay and lesbian community in Yellowknife heralded the legislation as a victory for minority rights.
"It is exciting that the federal government has recognized the principles of equality for all Canadians," Shad Turner said Thursday.
"This is surreal. All Canadians can be proud... that this country is a trailblazer."
Canada is the fourth nation to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, behind Belgium, the Netherlands and Spain.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLachlin gave the bill final approval during a ceremony in Ottawa Wednesday. She was filling in for Governor General Adrienne Clarkson who was on medical leave.
Debate in the Senate Tuesday was heavily divided with several members speaking out against the legislation, which passed by a 47-21 margin.
"To those who believe in the sanctity of marriage - the silent majority - the passage of bill C-38 is a black mark in the history of this country," said Ontario senator Consiglio Di Nino.
Northwest Territories Senator and former premier Nick Sibbeston voted against Bill C-38, three weeks after calling homosexual relationships "unnatural."
"These lifestyles (are) not common in the North and our ancestors would frown on these activities," Sibbeston wrote in a letter to this newspaper.
He did not return a phone message Wednesday after the bill's passage.
The territorial government unveiled gender-neutral marriage certificates this week that are available at the Office of Vital Statistics - a division of the Health department.
Deputy minister Dave Murray reminded marriage commissioners yesterday they must issue licences to same-sex couples. Similar requirements have created controversy in other parts of Canada where commissioners have refused to issue the permits.
"Marriage licence issuers and marriage commissioners will be required to complete their duties," he wrote in a letter to government employees.
The federal legislation does not compel churches to marry gay and lesbian couples.