same wonderful qualities that make the Maritimes so appealing can be inhibitors
when you happen to be gay ... It's difficult to come out in a community where
everybody knows you."
believe when Canadians start to talk about it, they will decide all families in
Canada are equal."
"We think when Canadians have the debate framed in that light - that every
family has the right to be treated with dignity - they will come around."
the Ontario Court did, in saying unanimously that same-sex couples should have
the equal right to marry, was logical and sensible and right. It's now up to the
Federal Government to change a law which can no longer be defended."
... I can say it no better than by echoing and adopting the profound and famous words of Martin Luther King Jr., who in 1963 wrote from the jail cell he then occupied:
Tour - Just Married
of the gay couples who recently won a same-sex marriage suit against the province
of Ontario is touring New Brunswick this week, hoping to raise awareness and generate
discussion about marriage discrimination.
November 2, 2002
We boarded a nearly empty plane in Toronto, bound for the brand-new international airport (Paris!) in Moncton, New Brunswick. With lots of room to stretch, we arrived fresh and ready for our nine-day experience. The whole tour was produced by Richard Blaquiere (photo at right), from New Brunswick, who had volunteered to assist in planning advocacy work in the area. Richard assembled a dedicated and commited team of volunteers in 5 cities and two provinces.
Ed Leslie, a guide with many stories, picked us up at the airport in Moncton to drive us to Fredericton where we were scheduled to speak the next day. With some free time on our hands, Ed took us around to the local sites (Magnetic Hill, and the Mactaquac Dam) until the weather turned very wintery. We safely arrived in Fredericton and settled into bed with some hot chocolate, to edit the soft-cover version of Just Married (to be published next spring).
November 3, 2002
The next day was sunny when we met for lunch with Haifa Miller and friends of the Unitarian Fellowship of Fredericton where we were scheduled to speak, later that evening. During an early dinner with Richard Blaquire (our first opportunity to meet in person), retired Supreme Court Justice LaForest walked into the Greek restaurant we were in. We introduced ourselves, commenting that we were speaking the next day at the University of New Brunswick Law School, where his daughter is the Dean.
It was an interesting maritimes moment as we silently recalled Justice Laforest's views about marriage and procreation (the hot topic of today), in the Egan v. Canada case. He was gracious and warm as he waited for his take-out, listening with interest to our tales of adventures.
Our evening with the Fellowship was most welcoming, with delicious food and a live music from pianist Margaret Brown. We met Larry and Jason, a Fredericton couple who have made a difference to each other and their community (including being early and big supporters of this web site) through the example of their loving and generous lives. Afterward we joined a smaller group at the home of Lorna Drew (founder of the Fredericton "Raging Grannies") and Leo Ferrari for wine and conversation until it was time to go home, despite the fascinating company.
November 4, 2002
We woke up the next day to find ourselves on the front-page of the province's newspaper with the headline 'All families deserve dignity'. It was a great beginning in our effort to get a positive message out in this province where only 43% approve of same-sex marriage.
We did an interview with ATV on the campus of St. Thomas University with a reporter who told us she had permission to film us on the campus. We met privately with a human rights class, and after a positive session, we returned to our hotel where we picked up a message from ATV. They wanted to film another interview because they weren't going to be able to use the one they shot on the campus of St. Thomas after all. We were fully booked the next day and before we could learn more, we were on to a warm reception at the University of New Brunswick Law School.
November 5, 2002
The next day another storm was underway, and another volunteer driver, Mark, was travelling in dangerous conditions from Saint John, to pick us up in Fredericton and bring us back to his port city. We were due for a CBC radio interview in Saint John later that afternoon, followed by a Global TV interview. Fortunately, the storm abated and Mark calmly got us safely out of the stormy inland and into Saint John, where the weather was moderated by the ocean.
We checked into our hotel, guests of the University of New Brunswick, where we soon recieved a call from Sarah, our organizer and angel in this city graced with Victorian architecture (many facades in brick, rebuilt to new codes after the great fire). Sarah had been busy, long before our arrival, implementing her media strategy in Saint John. By the time we arrived, the alternative newsweekly, Here, was on the streets with a news item about us and our speaking tour. The day's interviews went well, and we found ourselves with the pleasure of attending a reception at Mahogany Manner, hosted by the gracious Carl Trickey. We did an interview with K100-FM. It seemed every friend of the gay Saint John community was there, including PFLAG, an AIDS group, and local politicians and business owners. When we expressed amazement at the vibrancy of the community, they modestly pointed to Moncton as the province's leading LGBT community.
We spoke at the Saint John campus of the University of Saint John and then attended a reception hosted by the university's Q-Collective (their innaugral event!). The LGBT group had ordered a wedding cake, complete with grooms on top. It was a touching gesture, and we cut the first slice ceremoniously.
November 6, 2002
The next day, Sarah had us back in a radio studio again, this time for a two-hour phone-in program broadcast through-out the province on Talk of the Town - C98 We heard from a mother, saddened because her son and his same-sex spouse felt they could not live openly in Saint John, and instead, they had moved to Quebec. Families separated by those who claim to be pro-family. We heard from the biblical literalists, and the humanists. It was engaging and lively and a fitting end to our visit in Saint John.
It was time to meet Greg Daborn, past President of Moncton Pride, who drove us from Saint John to Sackville, New Brunswick, where we had an engagement with Mount Allison University. Another storm was on the way, and Gary wanted to reach further inland before it hit. We managed to reach Sackville before snowfall, where we enjoyed the fabulous hospitality of Alasdair MacLean and Arthur Motyer. We were entertained with conversation, food, wine, poetry, music, and art: the best preparation for our intimate evening at the university art gallery where our presentation took place. Afterwards we were grateful for an early end to the evening and a fast, deep sleep.
November 7, 2002
We woke up the next day without electricity. Halifax, in the province next door was also dark. Heavy snows had brought down the power grid. Our hosts were in complete control, waking us with with train and bus schedules at hand. The train seemed the best option, under the circumstances.
Our trip to Halifax was spent mostly in the dining car, enjoying a mid-day lunch as the coastal forests past by our window. We entered Nova Scotia's capital port city Halifax, just as the sun was dropping over the harbour.
As the twinkling lights of the city danced on the heavy snows that had blanketed the area, we were met at the train station by Hal Walsh, another of the wonderful volunteers. We piled our luggage into the trunk of Hal's car and drove to our hotel. The storm had closed the university for the night and our engagement with DALOUT had been cancelled. With mixed feelings, we ordered room service and curled up in bed, drifting to sleep after we watched what seemed to be an appropriate movie, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
November 8, 2002
The sun was shining when we rose early to start a day jam-packed with activity. At 8:45 a.m. we met our guardian angels (we are fortunate to have so many!) Sam Wilson and Bob Fougere in the lobby of our hotel. Working with Lara Morris, they had blanketed Halifax with media coverage. The weekly alternative, The Coast, had a story on the streets in time for our arrival, as did the local gay newspaper, Wayves.
Sam and Bob took us to our first engagement of the day at Mount Saint Vincent University where we talked about constitutional personhood. Students committed themselves to writing letters and speaking out for equality. Afterwards we did a CBC French radio interview, and then an English radio interview in the car on our way to the Dalhousie University radio station CKDU, where we did another live interview in the studio. With no time for lunch, we moved on into the afternoon with a Global TV interview, taped for later broadcast. At last we had a breather for a slice of pizza before it was time to do our presentation at the Dalhousie Law School. We did a quick interview, afterwards with the Halifax Herald, and then accepted an invitation to join some of the students in a cafe on Spring Garden Road.
Soon it was time to go to the final event in this hectic day, sponsored by the Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project and Safe Harbour Metropolitan Community Church. Fittingly, we ended our tour in a place of worship, just as we had done in Fredericton, when we began our maritime tour. A great buffet of refreshments ended our evening, and then back to our hotel for much-needed rest.
November 9, 2002
Saturday morning, we were back on the front-page of a newspaper, this time in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. A reporter had asked us what we thought of local musician Natalie MacMaster's anti-gay stance. Once again we found ourselves exploring what happens when faith-based values are introduced in the public sphere. People are just repeating what they see endorsed by their spiritual or political leaders. That is why change must happen in our laws. Government must set the example. Then perhaps spiritual leaders will stop abusing the faith of their followers in order to turn their community against others.
We visited the bookstore Venus Envy to sign books and do another television interview (with students this time). And finally, we did another, more indepth, interview with the Halifax Herald later that same day for subsequent publication. With everything over we opened a bottle of champagne and toasted to the great success.
We met people from across the region, motivated to end marriage discrimination, ready to respond to the Justice Minister's discussion paper. Gay marriage was on the front pages of the papers, and on the airwaves of radio and on television across the region. With great appreciation, we returned to Toronto, tired, but happy for the effort, the experience, and the results.
Expansion of Human Rights
The day the (above) Chronicle-Herald story "Gay activists irked with MacMaster" appeared, we were told that there would be letters to the editor, as indeed there have been (although we have not read them).
Ms. MacMaster, a musician from Nova Scotia, appears in government promotional material for tourism. This past summer, she publicly supported the Roman Catholic Church's policies related to homosexuality. In doing so, a person accepts the Vatican's positions found in two disturbing directives, including (and there is much more if you follow these two links):
The news story recalled Ms. MacMaster's faithful support of her church doctrine and then:
"Mr. Bourassa compared Ms. MacMaster to Anita Bryant, a former U.S. beauty queen who promoted Florida orange juice in TV commercials and was 'extremely homophobic and promoted that agenda.' "
Both individuals told the press they endorsed anti-gay doctrines that, if allowed to prevail, will prolong inequalities - not just in faith communities, but also in provinces, states and countries around the world. Ms. Bryant, however, turned her belief into a crusade, whereas Ms. MacMaster has publicly endorsed the position of a church on such a crusade. Maybe she didn't mean it? People say that she is a lovely person.
Many lovely people (our Catholic families among them) are being encouraged by their religious leaders to take a public stand against our human rights. It can be remarkable to look into the face of discrimination and find that we see ourselves. Lovely people. Shiny people. People of good faith and intentions. How can that be? Do they really know what they are agreeing to?
Do lovely people agree with the Vatician's position on gay-bashing?
So the reporter asked us the question and we responded. We placed blame on the spiritual leaders who are using religious faith to promote discrimination, and on the political leaders who have not yet set the example by honouring our Charter rights. The Canadian courts, however, have been quite clear: Discrimination based on sexual orientation is analogous to discrimination based on race.
"A religious institution that advocates racial discrimination is likely to be viewed as highly eccentric and therefore entitled to minimal accommodation for its views," Dr. Wintemute said in a lecture about religion and homosexuality.
Religious institutions that promote sexual orientation discrimination are beginning to be seen in the same way. Their policies and actions amount to bigotry.
In Ontario court on the final day of our hearing, the lawyer representing the Catholic church said his clients were afraid of being portrayed as "nutbars". As society begins to realize that the Sun does not move around the Earth, and that some church teachings are just plain wrong, spiritual leaders are feeling "under pressure, under concern, under threat."
The Catholic bishops recently met in Ontario to discuss the challenges of getting Catholic married couples to speak out against same-sex marriage, even though nobody is forcing their church to marry same-sex couples. Catholics are being asked to support their bishops in their attempt to violate a targeted group's dignity, faith and human rights.
Both of us left the Catholic church as children, knowing we weren't welcome. The abuse of our spirituality and our rights should have stopped then. It continues today, in part, due to the remaining acceptance of faith-based bigotry. Too many atrocities in the name of absolute truth have occurred because too few of the faithful questioned their spiritual leaders. While the Trinity-Western case confirmed that faith-based discrimination is acceptable in private circumstances, the courts in Ontario and Quebec rejected faith-based bigotry in the Canadian public sphere or common law. So should all Canadians of conscience, regardless of faith or political affiliation. Otherwise, as Supreme Court Justice J. Iacobucci noted, "the guarantees of the Charter will be reduced to little more than empty words."
Douglas Elliott, the lawyer representing our faith community, the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, summed up the situation in this way in Ontario court:
Thank you to everyone who made this tour a great success. We greatly appreciated your hospitality, generosity and kindness, including, but not limited to:
Richard Blaquiere - Producer of the Maritimes tour
Moncton: Greg Daborn
Fredericton: Cliff Arnold, Jason Curl and Larry Dickinson (and East Coast Bears!), Lorna Drew and Leo Ferrari, Margaret Brown, Anthony Fitzgerald, Ed Leslie, Dean LaForest, Kristen Rudderham, Dr. McGowan (and student driver!), Haifa Miller, Tracey Rickards, Dave Warman, and the Unitarian Fellowship of Fredericton.
Saint John: Kim Allen, Leslie Jeffrey, Nancy Johnston, Mark McGovern, Mahogany Manor and Carl Trickey & Jim Crooks, Ross & Wayne, Anna Moran, Q-Collective, University of Saint John, SarahRose Warner (big hugs for pulling it all together here!).
Sackville: Eldon Hay, Andrew Nurse and Melody Petlock (Mount Allison University), Alasdair MacLean and Arthur Motyer,
Halifax: Atlantic School of Theology, Blye Frank, Lara Morris, Bob Fougere and Sam Wilson, Ann Vibert (MSVU), MSVU Women's Studies Department, MSVU Department of Education, MSVU Queer/Straight Alliance, Dave Steeve (Dalhousie Law), Dalhousie Social Activist Law Student Association, Nova Scotia Rainbow Action Project, Safe Harbour Metropolitan Community Church, Maggie at Venus Envy, and Hal Walsh.
Special thanks to students and supporters.
Thank you for marketing support: Stephanie Gowan and Randy Chan (Random House / Doubleday).
Carolyn Swadron and Bill Wrigley looked after our cats Daphne and Chloe - big, big, thank you!