Advocacy News - 5th Anniversary of the 1st legal gay marriage
January 12, 2006
5th anniversary of the 1st
legal gay marriage
By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell
Five years ago, on January 14, 2001, a vehicle arrived in front of our home to deliver us to our church on time for our marriage. But instead of a limousine, our wedding carriage was a van with darkened windows, driven by a security expert trained in defensive tactics. Instead of a direct route, our driver wound through Toronto side-streets to ensure we weren't being followed. Behind us, a second vehicle with security personnel monitored our progress, ready to intervene if we encountered interference along our route.
As we neared the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, we saw police on horseback, riot barricades at the ready, police cars, ambulances, and fire trucks surrounding our place of worship. Police in body armor gathered around our van as it stopped at a side-entrance to our church. Toronto's finest formed a corridor of blue for us to run through and into the sanctuary of the building.
Inside, we were met by a body guard who escorted us, past more police, to a windowless room in the basement of our church. Safe in our bunker, we encountered still more security, as experts swept the area for bombs.
Above us, the sanctuary of our church filled with family, friends, and members of the public invited to witness the world's first legal same-sex marriages. The balcony and floor were filled to capacity, with an overflow crowd in a social hall, watching the marriage on a live video-feed. Police would not allow satellite trucks to park near the church, because of bomb threats that they deemed credible, preventing the marriage from being broadcast live. Despite this, 80 news organizations from around the world gathered in the church to film this landmark accession, requiring the church to remove three rows of pews just to accommodate the television cameras.
As we prepared to walk down the aisle, the last thing we were told before the marriage service began was, "If you hear a shot, stay standing and don't move. Keep smiling. Someone will move you if necessary."
Our pastor, the Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes wore a bulletproof vest.
Talk about wedding day jitters!
Because of security concerns, we were not allowed to have any contact with our guests before, during, or immediately after the service. There were no kisses, no hugs, no handshakes with anyone outside of the immediate wedding party. No photos with families or friends. After the service, from the alter of our church, we were presented as newlyweds to an electrified standing and cheering crowd, and then quickly hustled out of the sanctuary and back into the arms of our body guards while the choir was still singing!
We did not see our family and friends until several hours after the service, while we waited in isolation in our bomb shelter for the police to clear the church of visitors and then do another bomb sweep of the sanctuary and social hall.
After the church was once again secure and empty of everyone except media, we returned upstairs, where we did a press scrum and interviews for two hours. It was dark before we returned home from our 2pm wedding, into the loving protection of family and friends.
There was never a wedding like it in Canada before, and we hope no couple will ever have to endure something like it again. As we celebrate our 5th wedding anniversary, we can reflect with great satisfaction on the amazing progress that has been made since then.
Canada's 1st victory for same-sex marriage came when a decision on our case, and those of couples seeking civil marriage, was delivered by Ontario's Superior Court on July 12, 2002 - Canada's first judicial decision in favour of equal marriage. A second, definitive judgment came from the Court of Appeal for Ontario on June 10, 2003, when the court declared our marriage to be legal as of January 14, 2001, and opened marriage to all gay and lesbian couples effective immediately.
Soon after, courts in region after region across Canada compelled provinces to do the same until Parliament finally codified the new definition of marriage into legislation forcing the lagging provinces to comply with the law, at last, on July 20, 2005.
Since then, regular visitors to this web site (and some 2.6 million visitors viewed 8.5 million pages of our web site, generating over 47 million hits, last year alone!) will know that we have been enjoying married life, with our goal of marriage equality achieved across the country. We have not updated this website since September last year, in support of others who are working to achieve equal marriage outside of Canada.
Even now, during an election that currently has Stephen Harper threatening to renew an attack against our rights, we have remained outside the political fight, unlike the last election that took place prior to the passage of equal marriage legislation in Parliament.
When you win you win. We retired from the battlefield, went home and opened a bottle of champagne. Not that anyone can rest assured that human rights will always be protected and respected here or anywhere else in our world. We will rejoin the battle, as will many others, should our beloved Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms come under attack.
Presently we are only threatened by the posturing of Stephen Harper who aims to impose a U.S.-style Conservative regime on Canadian values. Our response is something that all Canadian adults should do: vote.
We're ready for another battle, should a threat turn into an attack. Meanwhile, this web site's extensive and "enormously informative" (The Globe and Mail) content continues to provide advocacy-based information from a variety of perspectives to a surprisingly large audience every hour of every day, year after year.
This weekend, on the 5th anniversary of our marriage, we'll be worshiping with our congregation at MCC Toronto, giving thanks for the tremendous leadership and support we have found there. As we have done each and every year since our marriage, we will be dining with our friends Anne and Elaine Vautour (the couple who were married alongside us on that amazing day) hosted by our hero, lawyer Douglas Elliott and his spouse Greg. We'll share stories about the amazing and transforming experience of working with others on behalf of human rights. We'll give thanks for the blessings that have brought us to this point then, after some fabulous food and wine, we'll return home, with all the goods and goals of married life, come what may.