One Couple's Experience - Appearing Before the Justice Committee
Michael Hendricks and René LeBoeuf - February 11, 2003

 Our visit to the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights Hearings

Micheal Hendricks and Rene LeBoeuf (Photo by, 2002)Early in February, my chum, René LeBoeuf, and I were invited to present our views on same-sex marriage to the Standing Committee. Here is a summary of the notes I took during that two-hour session.

At 9h sharp, the Meeting Room, looking something like a university classroom, filled up with deputies and committee staff, plus the other representatives from our community (the folks from the Foundation for Equal Families, Michelle Douglas and David Corbett). As an audience, there were a few media types, some students plus a small gaggle of interested gays and lesbians. Even one "tourist", a woman with a fresh Florida tan and beaded hair (like tourists get in Jamaica) wandered in. Oddly enough, none of those who oppose equal marriage showed up until after we were through speaking and the deputies had finished questioning us.

The room is set up with a rectangular table, the Chairman at the head of the table surrounded by staff members with the majority (the Liberals) to his right. On the Chairman's left are the opposition members. The witnesses (us) sit at the bottom of the table, facing the Chair. The Liberals, with one exception, all looked striking alike: glasses, gray suits and ties, thinning hair. To us, these men generally looked like they sold insurance. The one exception, sitting in the middle of the group was Deputy Marlene Jennings, a strikingly pretty woman in fashionable attire. The "opposition" was more of a mixed bag. Starting at the top of the table are the Members of the official opposition, the Canadian Alliance. They were taller and heavier set, led by an even taller man with long gray hair arranged in a ponytail, a sort of aging hippy in cowboy drag. Like most of the Liberals they were remarkably silent during the hearing.

At the bottom of the left side, closest to us, were the two delegates from the Bloc Quebecois and the one Member from the NDP, all very cheery and chatty from the start. In the end, it would be they who would do 90% of the talking during the next two hours.

Michelle started off, introducing herself (with some background information) and then the Foundation's crackerjack lawyer, David, while stressing that they were submitting a hefty brief. She then delivered a solid overview of our community's position, a polished performance demonstrating a mastery of her material and the facts. Once she had defined access to civil marriage as a question of equality, she cut to the quick and pointed out that it was time to stop all the unnecessary discussion around religions being forced to marry same-sex couples. She went on to point out that, while the issue of same-sex couples having access to civil marriage is a question of human rights, it is also good social policy as it strengthens and supports marriage while having no effect on heterosexual marriage. The cherry on Michelle's sundae was that a parliamentary decision in favor of civil marriage for same-sex couples would be consistent with recent court decisions. A win-win situation for all.

Michelle finished with a rhetoric flare that did not go unnoticed: If same-sex couples get access to civil marriage, the sky will not fall. She pointed out that in her own past problems with the Canadian armed services, many dire predictions about the future were made but guess what? Once the regulations were changed to provide equality for homosexuals in the armed services, there was no great difference. Thus, she concluded, all the deputies had to do was to make a 'simple, legal and elegant' decision.

We were next. I did the intros and René read (in French) our statement. (See the English translation that follows this report.) Once he was finished, the questions and comments began.

First up was the Bloc Quebecois deputy, Mr. Marceau, who explained that, on this committee, there were different points of view including some deputies who think we want to empty marriage of its meaning. He asked how we reacted to this. I responded that we were speaking here about loving relationships and that, as a child, I had grown up under Jim Crow laws in the States. It was regularly predicted by some people that should segregation end, so would Western Civilization. For them, miscegenation was their greatest fear yet when the US Supreme Court ruled in Loving vs Virginia that Black people and White could marry, nothing happened, the sky did not fall.

David picked up the ball at this point (first correcting me by pointing out that the actual citation is Virginia vs Loving, a more telling synopsis of the case). He then explained that the deputies seemed to be struggling over a word while we are actually talking about an institution, civil marriage. And that marriage will not be abolished unless Parliament decides to abolish it.

Deputy Marceau came back with a question: There is a certain fear that same-sex couples would force the churches to marry them. Would our community accept a law such as article 367 in the Quebec Civil Code that protects organized religions by allowing them to decide who will marry in their faiths? I agreed saying that this was already accepted in Quebec and we had to respect the rights of others. Michelle pointed out that their statement supporting such a position was in the Foundation's submission. David neatly remarked that this was probably provincial jurisdiction but that we would support it.

Next up to bat was Svend Robinson. After a quick and emotional review of the Michelle Douglas story and his role in it, he said he saw the marriage issue as the same sort of thing. He asked if the Foundation had investigated if there had been a collapse in heterosexual marriages since the Netherlands and Belgium granted same-sex couples access? Michelle caught that one with a brief summary of how Svend had been a major help in her own battles and how much she appreciated it. As for Holland and Belgium, for her, this is the international direction. What we see there is the same institution but broadened and strengthened by opening to others.

Back to Svend: Some propose the adoption of civil union but the NDP sees that as "marriage light", an offense to gays and lesbians. Why is civil union not acceptable? David got that one by pointing out that when you draft a law, you make distinctions that matter. For example, when it comes to who can vote, if all citizens can vote because they are equal, then you do not create categories or types of voters. Maintaining a difference is by nature discriminatory.

Deputy Marlene Jennings (the good looking Liberal deputy) was next. She said she had two issues:

1. She supports civil union as long as it is "in addition to access to marriage", ie. that same-sex couples can have access to one or the other;

2. Speaking of interracial marriage, she explained that the State in Canada never forbid it nor did the Catholic Church. However, some other religious groups did but, with time, that objection ended. It is important, according to the Deputy, that religious groups realized that civil marriage is a legal institution and they have no reason to fear it being opened to same-sex couples.

At this point David pulled out a sheet of paper with a graphic representation, a kind of Boolean logic drawing that showed two overlapping rectangles. One rectangle represented religious marriage, the other civil marriage. He then pointed out that some of the space in the later block was not within the religious marriage block. This space represents non-religious civil marriages. Then he got out a second diagram, exactly like the first, but with a border added to the civil marriage rectangle. This represented same-sex marriage added to the original portrait. As all the deputies could see, some of this border was within the religious marriage block, representing those religions that would recognize same-sex marriage (which David listed off).

Next came Bloc Quebecois deputy Réal Ménard who pointed out that civil union in Quebec was a watershed moment. In February 2002, he had organized a fundraiser for our equal marriage battle and the community was not yet solidly behind the idea. But, once civil union passed, the support for access to civil marriage grew to the point where the support in these audiences is very strong. In fact, the debate in one year has moved beyond juridical issues. He then probed us to get us to talk about the romantic content of our struggle, something often overlooked, what we think about the charge that equal marriage will open the way to polygamy and, finally, the connection between religious convictions and marriage in our community.

Michael Hendricks and Rene LeBoeuf with Oscar (Photo by, 2002)We all answered that the engagement to marry is romantic in itself (I said it was hard to appear as newly weds when you have had 29 years together). As for polygamy, this is not an issue in our community as it is not a request (one is enough, someone said). And, for religious convictions, we all agreed that many gays and lesbians have strong religious faith and that there are religions that do accept us. Réal then asked what we thought about the image of gay men as frivolous in sexual matters. René gave the short answer saying that we are fighting to engage ourselves as couples.

Réal was followed by a Liberal deputy who was having a hard time swallowing Michelle's line about the sky will not fall which he called "disingenuous". He then went on a tear about some American research (by a Gretchen Steers) which says that the concept of monogamy does not exist for gay men. Thus, the idea of marriage being for two persons could not exist and that is a difference from heterosexuals. David simply pulled this comment apart.

So the deputy went on to say that homosexuals were after what he called the "benies" of marriage (the benefits) but not the responsibilities. We said we knew of no "benies" in marriage, not in taxes anyway, but we do understand the responsibilities.

At this point, the witnesses opposing equal marriage showed up. A man, whom we will call Mr. X (no identified affiliation but I suspect Opus Dei would not be too far off) said he was late because of a traffic jam on the way into Ottawa. A Ms. Y, representing a large Roman Catholic lay organization, offered no explanation for her lateness.

Mr. X was a man in his early forties, dressed casually, almost like a student. Ms Y was a handsome elderly woman, carefully dressed, with a vintage mink hat covering her gray curly hair. She clutched a rosary (the glow-in-the-dark kind) tightly in her left hand while she spoke. Ms Y began by identifying herself as being a member of the board of her organization for decades and said she was happy to be present since February 11th is the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. She then described her ideological perspective, which appeared to be creationist, and cited Jesus' Biblical opinions on marriage (Mathew 19:5-6), qualifying the marriage-based family as the original human social structure and modernism as visionless individualism. As she read from her single-spaced typed statement she referred often to astronauts as signs of a 'new age of awareness of ourselves'. Then came her opinions on equal marriage, for example, same-sex union has the same relation to marriage that anarchy has to government, unholy alliances, unholy relationships, etc., etc..

As Ms Y qualified homosexuals as pedophiles, necrophiles, and whatever, suddenly Deputy Robinson raised a point of order. The deputy said that the tenor and language in this committee was unacceptable. During his years of experience in such committees, he had never seen such disregard for the basic rules of respect and dignity, lack of observance of civility. Such standards would never be tolerated if the subject were the rights of Blacks, spewing hatred would not tolerated. He said the Chairman, a prominent Liberal from New Brunswick, must play his role and be more vigilant. The Chairman replied, saying the committee would discuss this "in camera" (in secret).

Following Ms Y, Mr. X came on, saying that this whole discussion was trivial and unnecessary, that the priorities of the country have gone the wrong way. He then went into a tortured description of the woes of opposing equal marriage. For example, the process of approving Bill 84 (civil union) in Quebec, where no dissenting opinions were allowed in the National Assembly, how the "powerful homosexual lobby" had controlled the process to push marriage but not to discuss the real issue for homosexuals which is health, primarily AIDS. He complained about the use of the words "homophobe" and "homophobia", words he said were used to discriminate against him. He stated that psychologists who practice "escape theory " (helping gays become straight) are threatened in Quebec, professors who oppose equal marriage are so threatened they won't testify against it, the committee against the Gay Games can't even open a bank account! He then described the life expectancy of gay men under 30 in Montreal as being the same as in 3rd world countries (AIDS again), how any research on homosexuals was blocked, how the homosexuals in the "media and the ministries" control any discussion. Finally, he deplored the strength of this "privileged minority", those who would benefit from civil union in Quebec.

After X delivered himself, a beefy Member of Parliament from the Canadian Alliance thanked him for coming and, addressing the Chair, said he wished to speak to Svend's point of order. It seems that the Member does not hear Ms Y's discourse as hatred since marriage is a "sacred union", an orderly relationship.

Ms Y jumped in and shrieked that she was sorry that Svend took it that way, because she has God on her side. Marriage is between a man and a woman. Homosexual overindulgence in sex is because they were molested as children and there is an organization like AA for homosexuals called "Courage". The hatred and venom, she rattled on, is coming from the homosexuals but God gave us our laws, even our astronauts.

At this point, David popped in and said, when questions about our rights are raised, we homosexuals always have to establish ourselves as people.

The Liberal MP who worried about the sky falling said he was also worried about the impact of admission of homosexuals to marriage and he wanted to know what Mr. X thought about "fidelity" among homosexuals in the published research.

Link to learn more about how you can contribute to  a trust account in aid of all five marriage cases underway across Canada (British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec)X replied that only a small number of homosexuals believe in fidelity and there are "hundreds" of studies on this. (The Chairman interrupted and asked that if such studies existed, they should be submitted to the Committee.) X went on: Canada does not know what the gay world is because no research is allowed, no one tells the truth, because there is no way to stop the "powerful homosexual lobby". He reads gay newspaper columnists and he knows: there are 30 saunas in Montreal (the world capital of gay saunas), plus clubs and raves at Montreal's Olympic Stadium where, according to his sources, unsafe sex goes on. Heterosexuals are not permitted in gay clubs (he knows because he was not allowed in one on St-Denis St) and lesbian clubs don't let men in. Note: There have been no gay clubs on St-Denis for years. There was a popular lesbian club on St-Denis but it closed several years ago.

At this point Mr. Marceau asked X if, since homosexuals caused all these problems, did he blamed them for the traffic jam that made him late for the audience (yes or no?) and did he really try to enter a gay club (yes or no?). PP answered NO and YES. Then Mr. Marceau asked if we should withdraw marriage from unfaithful heterosexuals (yes or no?) NO, said X.

Mr. Marceau then asked Ms Y a series of questions about divorce which she deftly or daftly (I was not sure) avoided answering but said that, with help, you can avoid divorce. Mr. Marecau came back with: Is there a difference between her views and the Pope's. Ms Y feigned confusion and said God gave us the 10 commandments.

Svend then asked for Ms Y's help because he could find no place in the Bible where Jesus spoke about homosexuality. She got confused and turned to a nun in the audience (a rather large nun in full habit, with her face peaking out of the hood). The nun said it was not an issue at the time so Ms Y said there were no homosexuals then. Svend then asked her if she approved of an elderly couple he knew who had married but they could not have children. On safer ground, Ms Y said that they were "open to fertility but physically not capable" so it was ok.

The Liberal with the problem about the falling sky jumped back in and said that the argument is between marriage needing a man and woman and "rights" which is difficult to deal with. What does Mr. X think about that?

X: It is always the same, gay propaganda has not changed the minds of the people. Ms Y merrily chimed in by saying marriage needs a man and woman since the beginning of time.

With that, the Chairman asked if the deputies had any further questions and, if not, he would like to take a break and then start the 'in camera' session on Svend's point of order. So the room must be cleared.

At that point, another Liberal Member who had been silent throughout the morning said he wanted to say something. According to him, he was the victim of a misquote in the media about something he supposedly said at the previous audience and, unless the media in question printed a retraction, he would take action. He was very annoyed and glared at the media types in the back of the room.

As we left, I noticed the poney-tailed "cowboy" leaving the room with the woman tourist with the beaded hair.

NB: In a Southam News dispatch published across the country on February 7, under the headline "MPs give lesbian witnesses hard time", there was a very unflattering report on the proceedings of this committee the previous day (Thursday, February 6).

Memorandum presented by Michael Hendricks and René LeBœuf


The Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights
of the Canadian House of Commons

(English translation)

Civil marriage : the gold standard of social recognition
Testimony on the question of access to civil marriage for same-sex couples

Our struggle for recognition of our conjugal relationship through access to civil marriage began on September 14, 1998.  We won the first phase of this battle with Judge Louise Lemelin's decision in Quebec Superior Court on September 6, 2002.

We are a homosexual male couple.  We met in 1973 and have lived together since June 21, 1976.  We undertook our court challenge to gain access to civil marriage because we consider ourselves to be full citizens of Canada and access to civil marriage should be a right for all couples in conjugal relationships.

In court, our arguments were very simple:  refusing access to marriage for same-sex couples is discriminatory under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (section 15) and section 1 of the Charter does not justify this discrimination.

Judge Lemelin heard our case and she agreed with our arguments.  In her decision on September 6, 2002, she declared that:

  1. Section 5 of the Federal Law-Civil Code Harmonization Act No. 1 is unconstitutional because it is incompatible with the rights guaranteed in section 15 (1) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms;

Note :  Section 5 states that marriage requires the free and informed consent of a man an  a woman to become spouses.

2. Section 1,1 of the Modernization of Benefits and Obligations Act is unconstitutional;

Note : Section 1,1 states that the modifications in this law do not alter the common law meaning of the term 'marriage', i.e., the "lawful union of a man and woman to the exclusion of all others".

3.   The portion of Article 365 of the Quebec Civil Code (alinéa 2) which states that marriage can not exist except between a man and woman is unconstitutional.

Meanwhile, thanks to this court challenge in Quebec, and to the support of a large segment of Quebec's civil society, the Quebec government passed Bill 84, An Act instituting civil union and establishing new rules of filiation.  This new law assures same-sex couples access to a new conjugal regime, with almost the same rights as marriage, but without the title or the social status which marriage conveys.

Note:   However, Bill 84 also amended the portion of Article 365 of the Quebec Civil Code, (alinéa 2), to state that marriage is between two persons.

In spite of the importance for same-sex couples of this historic change in Quebec and Canada, we are continuing our struggle for recognition of our relationship through access to civil marriage.  Why?  Because, for us, civil union is nothing but "marriage light", a substitute for real social equality.

During a Quebec Superior Court hearing before Judge Lemelin on March 22, 2002, we explained that, regardless of the existence of civil union in Quebec, we have the intention of continuing our struggle for access to civil marriage. 

For us, Quebec's civil union is a big step forward, offering quasi-equality in legal terms for same-sex couples but it is not the complete and total equality represented by civil marriage.  In practical terms, our relationship would have a limited, only provincial, recognition.  As Canadian citizens, we would not have the right to move freely in Canada with the same recognition in law that any civilly married couple has, with all the legal and social implications that derive from that liberty.

And, in spite of the convenience that would be offered by a Canada-wide civil union, as is proposed as a solution to "our problem" by the Canadian Justice Minister, we continue to believe that civil marriage is the "gold standard" of social recognition for conjugal relationships.  If we are not recognized as equal to other Canadian citizens, we will continue to be second class citizens, obliged to live a nebulous social status defined by social and legal non-recognition.

During our 29 years together, we have lived through a gradual recognition of our rights that were originally marginal and always partial.  What we desire is that, in the future, homosexuals would be recognized as citizens on an equal footing with our heterosexual fellow citizens, with all the rights and all the responsibilities of adults.  Once that is done, we will finally be able to leave our historic social marginality behind us.  Never again will Canadian gay and lesbian youth be presented with that morose vision of the future that was imposed on us when we were adolescents.  Moreover, gays and lesbians would no longer be treated by society or the law as pariahs, a marginal group that can be eliminated.  In obtaining a favorable decision either from the Supreme Court or from this Parliament, Canadian gays and lesbians will obtain full civil and legal recognition as complete human beings, with full citizenship.  At last our young people will have access to all the choices offered by society for building a full and complete life in a free society that is open to them.

In the context of the present national consultation on our rights, we have read attentively the Canadian Minister of Justice's discussion paper, "Marriage and Legal Recognition of Same-sex Unions".  From our point of view, only "possible approach" number 2, "Marriage could be changed to also include same-sex couples" is valid.  The other propositions will do nothing but consecrate a difference in treatment between gays and lesbians and all other citizens.

If this Parliament decides to include same-sex couples in the definition of civil marriage, we are ready to abandon our court challenge.  But no other solution can satisfy our thirst for justice, equality and liberty.

Link to our media coverage of related issues.