U.S. still laggin behind its neighbor to the north
By DMITRY RASHNITSOV
This week Canada celebrated the 10-year
anniversary of the first day that two same-sex
couples tied the knot as an entire country.
photo: Courtesy, feministlawprofs.law.sc.edu
In the past 10 years, only five states in the U.S. have been able to enact laws allowing gays and lesbians to have civil unions. Another six states have domestic partnerships similar to civil unions and another three states have other types of recognition which give committed samesex couples some sort of rights. What all of these arrangements lack is the full benefits that legalized marriage give to couples. So while they be the brunt of many jokes, America’s neighbor to the North, Canada, has one thing that this country does not nor will have in the near future: the ability to marry freely. On Jan. 14, Canada celebrated the 10- year anniversary of the first day that two same-sex couples tied the knot as an entire country watched and hoped that this would not be a road to disaster. Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa, along with Anne and Elaine Vautour, were the first same-sex couples to be married in Toronto at Riverdale’s Metropolitan Community Church on Jan. 14, 2001. “I had no idea how huge this was going to be for so many people. It made a huge difference in the world,” said Anne Vautour.
Elaine remembered her wedding day with mixed emotions.
“It was huge, and it was a little bit scary, because they brought us to the church in an armoured vehicle – but it was exciting,” Elaine said.
The Rev. Brent Hawkes married the two despite protests and death threats. He wore a bullet-proof vest at the ceremony and was under police protection during that time.
“There were 50 police outside, searching people as they came into the building. It was all so terrifying. The night before, I called my family and told them, ‘I love you. If anything happens to me, I love you,’” Hawkes recalled.
The gentlemen also remember quite the tense moments leading up to their nuptials.
“We said goodbye to people, we told them we loved them,” said Bourassa, now 52.
“We were told we were under threat. The last words police officers said to us as we went down the aisle was, ‘If you hear a shot don’t move, somebody will move you, just stand still.’ We were told if a shot was going to come it would most likely be when we signed the papers because they’d try to stop us from signing.”
According to the latest Canadian census, there are at least 7,500 married samesex couples in Canada.
Even with 10 years of history and the world not coming to an end, some Canadians have to continue to fight for their legal right to get married.
Saskatchewan’s top court said marriage commissioners cannot use religion to say “no” to nuptials for same-sex couples. The Appeal Court had been asked by the government to rule on a proposed provincial law that would have allowed commissioners to cite religious grounds in refusing to marry gay men or lesbians.
The issue arose when Commissioner Orville Nichols, a devout Baptist, refused to marry a gay couple in 2005.
“We know our government is behind us. We know in terms of the Charter, Canada is behind us,” said Bourassa. “I hope other people never have to get married under those circumstances, but we really do believe it was worth it.”
The Vatours, Varnell and Bourassa joined 50 other couples in an anniversary party in Toronto to commemorate the occasion. For these decade old couples, it really is just about the simplest things.
“I just want Anne to know my love for her is stronger than it was 10 years ago,” Elaine said.