Journal of Law and Equality, Vol. 5, No. 1, pp. 57-80, Spring 2006
25 Pages Posted: 30 May 2007 Last revised: 30 Apr 2015
Date Written: 2006
The feminists who fought to strengthen the guarantee of sex equality in section 15(1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms never suggested that the state was the only threat to women's equality. We were concerned that the multiculturalism provision might be interpreted to limit women's equality and this concern led us to lobby for the second sex equality provision that ultimately became section 28. However, I don't think we fully grasped the threat that the major religions - Christianity, Islam and Judaism - would pose for women's equality rights. The terrain is marriage; the current issues are polygamy and arbitration; the challengers are mainly fundamentalists; their weapon is the right to freedom of religion in section 2(a) of the Charter; and their objectives are to give private religious values currency in the public regulation of marriage formation, dissolution, and re-formation. Since none of these challengers recognize formal, never mind substantive, equality rights for women, is there any way for women to successfully invoke section 15(1) in these contests? If not, does it therefore follow that as long as freedom of religion remains a Charter right, the Charter will fail to protect women's equality rights? In short, is religion equality's nemesis?
Keywords: Sex equality, religious freedom, Sharia arbitration, polygamy, Charter
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