Donors climb new heights for gay marriage (Sima Sharifi and Arnold Witzig)  Photo courtesy of the couple












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Advocacy News - Donors climb new heights for gay marriage

January 17, 2005

Donors climb new heights for gay marriage
Working to defeat the fear of difference

By Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell
Photos courtesy of Sima Sharifi and Arnold Witzig

We launched this site in 2001 to support our advocacy activities. First and foremost, Equal Marriage For Same-Sex Couples is a communications vehicle. We have not, as any regular visitor or subscriber will know, been active as fundraisers.

Although we have benefited from the valued services of lawyers, communication consultants, and advertising professionals (including large cash donations to pay for the production of our public service announcements), we have never worked with professional fundraisers. We simply offer visitors the opportunity to contribute if they share our sense of obligation to help in the expansion of human rights.

Help has come to us in many ways and we have often used this space to introduce the people we have worked with on this journey to marriage equality, as promised in this web site's introduction. So when lawyer Bruce Walker, a supporter who manages two trust accounts on our behalf, told us the trust accounts had received the largest single financial donation to date, we approached the donors to ask if they would be willing to do even more by sharing a bit of their story with us. They kindly agreed.

Sima Sharifi & Arnold Witzig on top of Mount Kilimajaro (Photo courtesy of the couple)
Sima Sharifi & Arnold Witzig on top of Mount Kilimanjaro

Sima Sharifi has a Masters in Linguistics and is interested in pursuing a PhD in machine translation. She also has a taste for adventure, keeping up with Arnold Witzig, a Swiss architect who sold his business six years ago to become an avid mountaineer. Arnold has climbed the "7 summits" and has an interest in working in the peace movement. They have been together since October 1999 and after 5 years together they decided to get married.

"We both love traveling around the globe," Sima explained. "Being together based on common law is respected by the law only if you don't leave Canada. However once you're out and in some African, Himalayan, or Middle Eastern country, such relationship would not be recognized. As there is always the possibility of some accidents or illness, neither Arnold nor I wanted to be stranded in some country to try to prove that we're indeed partners and that in emergency situations we could make certain decisions on each other's behalf."

While they were planning their wedding day "Arnold read Savage Love which appears regularly in our local paper, Georgia Straight. It was about heterosexuals showing support for homosexuals' wish to marry," Sima said. "One reader of that article suggested that one way of acting out our support is to direct our wedding gifts to those organizations which are working to legalize same-sex marriage. Arnold and I found it an excellent idea. We had an upcoming party in which we had included a surprise wedding. So after we surprised our guests with our wedding ceremony, we announced the idea of supporting gay marriage as our duty in a free democratic society. We said that we [would] double whatever our guests paid, in lieu of a wedding gift, and direct it to a Canadian organization working for same sex marriage."

To the surprised assembled guests, Arnold said, "Sima and I decided to get married just because we wanted to and we did it with absolutely no problem. In fact we were also encouraged by our society to do so. However, when it comes to homosexuals, they can't do it so smoothly. They had to go through many barriers that our society had put in their way. They had to convince many people, sometimes even their friends and families, to support their wish. That in the same society we privilege one group of citizens with the freedom to marry while we deprive or make it very difficult for the other to do so, is undemocratic to say the least".

Not everyone agreed with Sima and Arnold.

"One guest went home and sent us a cheque payable to a Christian/Jesuit organization!" Sima exclaimed. "We sent it right back to that person .... a few did not send any cheque at all, which we certainly respect. Another guest asked me why did we decided to do such a thing, while Canadian homosexuals are already enjoying a lot of equalities as heterosexuals? I said, same-sex couples may have broken some barriers in the legal field. However, when it comes to cultural barriers, they still have a long way to go. Until then, they need money to employ the tools by which they could educate people and increase the level of social acceptance and cultural respect that they deserve."

The couple's personal example and dialogue with their friends and family is perhaps the greatest contribution that anyone can make towards ending discrimination against gays and lesbians. Arnold and Sima's outreach on behalf of gay marriage helped open a dialogue within their circle, and while some were puzzled or even not in agreement, others expressed strong support.

"One person who also has a gay child was very impressed with this and said, 'That was a grand gesture to help such a cause.'" Sima told us. "Another said, 'The idea of supporting same-sex marriage is great'. Yet another said, 'I so much appreciated your support of same-sex marriage'."

Sima and Arnold plan to continue voicing support for marriage equality. The couple are producing a film about their relationship and wedding, including their support for same-sex marriage. Our supporters, and "activists" like them across Canada, outside of gay communities, are helping us take our rightful place in society. As more join them, "coming out" in support of our rights, we will have truly moved from tolerance to acceptance.

"We were always out on the matter of supporting gay marriage and any other issue related to the lesbian/gay community," Sima told us. "I guess, announcing our support of gay marriage publicly was something that needs to be done more often so the fear of 'difference' is eventually defeated."

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