Related News Links

Clarkson embroiled in Gay Marriage Debate - Globe and Mail (Jan. 15, 2001)

Statement from the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General (Jan. 16, 2001)

Bishops Criticize Official for Salute to Homosexual Couple (Zenit, Jan. 17, 2001)

The Governor General's response to the Catholic Bishops ("... every Canadian deserves respect and pooliteness from this office.")

Bishops Rush In (The Globe and Mail, Jan.24, 2001)

The dangers of form mail (McGill Tribune, Jan 23, 2001)

 

 



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Our Wedding - The Prime Minister & the Governor General

"A study in contrasts:  The Prime Minister & the Governor General"

"I wanted to give our leaders an opportunity to be on the right side of history."

In the days before my marriage to Joe Varnell (January 14, 2001), I recalled my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and the congratulatory statements that had been read out from the prime minister of Canada and the governor general. Why not appeal to these same politicians and public figures for support by inviting them to our wedding? I thought our best hope for a reply would come through a personal approach, rather than if we issued our invitation through the newspapers or on the evening news.

I wanted to give our leaders an opportunity to be on the right side of history. I didn't expect their attendance, but I hoped that a supportive reply (even a form response) would come out of their offices. I was careful to note that, although my invitation had been issued privately, I was looking for a response to share publicly.

Gone were the "best wishes for a joyful wedding." Gone too was the reference to "your wedding", replaced by the euphemistic "event" and "ceremony" ... Although the letter acknowledged that the government had tried to correct the gaps in "fairness and equality" for homosexuals, it attempted to gloss over the impossible task of reconciling such qualities ("Having said that ...") with the exclusionary definition of marriage that closed the letter with the force of a slammed door.
From
"Just Married: Gay Marriage and the Expansion of Human Rights", Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, 2002

The following are two invitations, and their responses, issued for our wedding.

Kevin Bourassa


An Invitation to the Prime Minister of Canada

January 5, 2001

Mr. Prime Minister,

I am writing privately, outside of the media glare, to invite you to my wedding, scheduled for January 14, 2001, at 2:00 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (www.mcctoronto.com). I am seeking to have my marriage to my same-sex spouse Joe Varnell registered as any other married couple can do with their license.

As a citizen, I am looking for leaders and representatives who will defend our right to marriage and to do so in a public manner.

I was raised under the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau and believed our leaders when they spoke of creating a just society for all Canadians.

Will you join us in our pursuit of human rights and add to your legacy by building on the liberal tradition of tolerance and inclusion?

Kevin Bourassa

Days later, I received the following response:

January 9, 2001

Dear Mr. Bourassa:

On behalf of the Prime Minister, I have been asked to thank you for the invitation to your wedding on January 14th, 2001 and to express Mr. Chrétien's regrets at being unable to attend.

Although he cannot be with you for the occassion, the Prime Minister sends his very best wishes for a joyful wedding day and for many years of health and happiness together.

Yours sincerely,

Paul Sparkes
Director of Operations
PS:je
ref: 10080134

Unfortunately, Mr. Sparkes' sincerity soon disappeared, along with all the good will. Our church, not believing the warm tone of the letter, checked back with the prime minister's office to verify their intentions. A second letter was issued, much different from the first:

January 13, 2001

Dear Mr. Bourassa:

On behalf of the Right Honourable Jean Chrétien, I would like to thank you for your e-mail message of January 5 in which you invited the Prime Minister to your ceremony and raised issues concerning the right of homosexuals to participate fully in Canadian society.

Please know that your invitation to the Prime Minister is appreciated but that he will be unable to attend the event.

To address your more general concern regarding the rights of homosexuals and same-sex couples, it is worth mentioning that during its first mandate our government amended the Canadian Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds of discrimination, and broadened hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation. Indeed, our government has lifted barriers to participation and has acted to promote tolerance for and mutual respect of all Canadians, regardless of their differences.

More recently, we passed legislation amending some sixty-eight federal statutes to extend benefits and obligations to same-sex couples on the same basis as common-law opposite-sex couples. These changes are about fairness and equality, and ensure that federal laws reflect the values of Canadians, values that are enshrined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Having said that, nothing in this legislation changed the legal definition of marriage which remains "the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others".

Again, thank you for writing to the Prime Minister.

Yours truly,

Keith Hanash
Manager Correspondence


An Invitation to Canada's Governor General

January 5, 2001

Her Excellency the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson
Governor General of Canada
and His Excellency John Ralston Saul

I am writing privately, outside of the media glare, to invite you to my wedding, scheduled for January 14th, 2001, at 2:00 p.m. at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, 115 Simpson Avenue (www.mcctoronto.com). I am seeking to have my marriage to my same-sex spouse Joe Varnell registered as any other married couple can do with their license.

As a citizen, I am looking for leaders and representatives who will defend our right to marriage and to do so in a public manner.

I was raised under the Liberal government of Pierre Trudeau and believed our leaders when they spoke of creating a just society for all Canadians.

Will you join us in our purusuit of human rights?

Kevin Bourassa

The Governor General's office replied with a grace that withstood the hysterics of the Canadian Catholic Bishops and bigots of the right:

January 11, 2001

Dear Mr. Bourassa:

On behalf of Their Excellencies the Right Honourable Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul, I wish to thank you for your communication dated January 5, 2001 in which you invite Their Excellencies to your wedding to be held on January 14, 2001 in Toronto.

Their Excellencies regret that, because of previous commitments, it will not be possible for them to accept your invitation.

In sending their regrets, Madame Clarkson and Mr. Saul have asked me to convey to you and to Mr. Varnell their congratulations and best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Louise M. Cléroux
Planning Officer


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