June 18, 2003
Canadian Leaders Agree to Propose Gay Marriage Law:
Canadian cabinet approves national policy for marriage to gay and lesbian couples.
by Clifford Krauss, Toronto
The Canadian cabinet approved a new national policy today to open marriage to gay couples, paving the way for Canada to become the third country to allow same-sex unions. "You have to look at history as an evolution of society," Prime Minister Jean Chrétien told reporters after a meeting of his cabinet. "According to the interpretation of the courts these unions should be legal in Canada. We will ensure that our legislation includes and legally recognizes the union of same-sex couples."
The decision to redefine marriage in Canada to include unions between men and between women will immediately take effect in Ontario, Canada’s most populous province. Last week, the province’s highest court ruled that current federal marriage laws are discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional. Once aides to Mr. Chrétien draft the necessary legislation, the House of Commons is expected to pass it into law in the next few months. Although leaders of the two conservative parties and some Liberals have expressed reservations, there is little organized opposition to such legislation, and public opinion polls show a solid majority in favor of the change.
The policy opens the way for same-sex couples from the United States and around the world to travel here to marry, since Canada has no marriage residency requirements. In addition, gay-rights advocates in the United States are already declaring that Canada will serve as a vivid example to Americans that same-sex marriage is workable and offers no challenge to traditional heterosexual family life. No American state allows same-sex marriage, but Vermont has enacted a law providing for civil unions, which allow gay couples many of the benefits of marriage.
Canadian marriage licenses have always been accepted in the United States, but now that the definition of marriage in the two countries appears likely to diverge, legal challenges to same-sex couples claiming rights and privileges deriving from their Canadian marriages seem certain to arise in at least some states. Issues including adoption rights, inheritance, insurance benefits and matters as mundane as sharing health club memberships are likely to arise in courts and state legislatures.
Canada’s new marriage policy comes at a time when the government is also pushing for legislation that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana, another policy that diverges sharply from American federal practices. Polling experts and social scientists note that conservative religious views are much less influential here than in the United States, with regular church attendance far lower and with fundamentalist Protestant groups attracting far less support. Mr. Chrétien said the government would also ask the Supreme Court for advice to make the new legislation invulnerable to appeals by provincial governments seeking to invalidate it in their jurisdictions.
However, the conservative premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein, has threatened a legal fight to exclude his province from the new rules. Gay-rights advocates celebrated the decision as a civil-rights milestone. "June 17 of 2003 is going to be a day gay and lesbian people remember for a long, long time to come," said Svend Robinson, a gay member of the House of Commons from the left-of-center New Democratic Party, in a television interview immediately after the announcement.
Canada’s action follows in the steps of the Netherlands and Belgium, but it is likely to have a much larger impact on the United States. Only a few American same-sex couples have taken advantage of expanded marriage laws in the Netherlands because of its long residency requirement, and Belgium will only allow marriages of foreign couples from countries that already allow such unions. But Canada is nearby and has no such restrictions.
"What this presents for American couples is an opportunity to easily enter into a legal marriage and come back to the United States with a powerful tool to break down the remaining discrimination here," said Lavi Soloway, a Canadian-born lawyer and founder of the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Rights Task Force in New York. Mr. Soloway said Canada’s marriage reform would go a long way to changing public perceptions and attitudes in the United States, although he added that the march to full acceptance would be slow. "What we are in for is a long gradual struggle to win full equal recognition of these marriages," he said.
Since the Ontario appeals court ruled last Tuesday in favor of same-sex unions, only a few minor hurdles stand in the way of legalizing them throughout Canada. Since the court decision last week, Ontario has already issued 131 marriage licenses to same-sex couples, including four from the United States. The most important remaining step is a vote in the House of Commons sometime in the next few months, one in which Mr. Chrétien said he will allow Liberal members to vote their consciences. Leaders of the Bloc Quebécois and the New Democratic Party have said their members are solidly behind the change, and with a majority of Liberals they should be able to enact the legislation easily despite opposition from two conservative parties.
The Supreme Court, which has ruled repeatedly in favor of extending gay rights, appears to support the efforts of the government to extend marital rights. "Every movement has its human rights milestones," said John Fisher, director of advocacy for Égale Canada, a group that has been working for same-sex marriage in the courts. "Just as the day women acquired the right to vote, when racial segregation was ruled as unconstitutional, so too, same-sex couples have finally acquired the right to marry."
To protect religious freedom, the cabinet decided that the planned federal legislation would allow religious institutions to refuse to conduct same-sex marriages. A three-member panel of the Ontario Court of Appeal declared unanimously last week that the definition of marriage as currently set by federal government – as a union between a man and a woman – was invalid and must be changed immediately to include same-sex couples. It ruled that under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, roughly the Canadian equivalent of the Bill of Rights, "the existing common-law definition of marriage violates the couple’s equality rights on the basis of sexual orientation." It added, "In doing so, it offends the dignity of persons in same-sex relationships."
The ruling was similar in argument but more immediate in impact to two previous decisions by provincial courts in Quebec and British Columbia. Last year, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that the prohibition of same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, and the British Columbia Court of Appeal did likewise last month. They gave the federal government until mid-2004 to change its marriage rules. Since then legislative panels have been studying ways to put the rulings into effect. Members of the Liberal federal cabinet overwhelmingly supported granting same-sex couples marriage rights, but members were divided over whether to legislate an immediate change or first to request guidance from the federal Supreme Court.
After hours of debate, the cabinet decided to do both, hoping for the imprimatur of both government bodies to assure maximum popular acceptance of the new law. "I think on balance people recognize that the decisions of the courts are really pointing in a direction from which it would be difficult – if we wanted to – to turn back," said Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, who is also a candidate to replace Prime Minister Chrétien as Liberal Party leader later this year.
June 11, 2003
Let gays marry now, court says–Ontario ruling sets off rush to licence offices; federal minister considers appeal
by Janice Tibbetts
Gay and lesbian couples raced to obtain marriage licences yesterday in a bid to pre-empt any attempt by the federal government to continue its flagging legal fight against same-sex marriage. The rush to legal matrimony followed a ruling by the Ontario Court of Appeal, which yesterday went farther than any court in Canada by changing the definition of who can marry, effective immediately.
Previous court decisions in Ontario and British Columbia had given the federal government until July 2004 to change its law. The first gay couple to legally become newlyweds were Crown prosecutor Michael Leshner and his partner Michael Stark, in a civil ceremony before a judge at a downtown Toronto courthouse. "Today is the death of homophobia in the courtroom as we know it," declared Mr. Leshner, as he embraced and kissed his legal spouse. As Mr. Leshner and Mr. Stark exchanged rings and sipped champagne, several other couples picked up marriage licences, after the court ordered Toronto city hall to issue them.
In Ottawa, longtime partners Lisa Lachance and Heather Gass said that were hoping to obtain a licence this morning and possibly "do the deed" tonight. The federal government, which until yesterday had had more than a year’s grace period to recraft its law, scrambled to decide what to do next. Justice Minister Martin Cauchon met with senior cabinet ministers to discuss his plans, which he will announce today after presenting them to the Liberal caucus. Mr. Cauchon, however, hinted that the government’s fight is not over yet. "We really need a national solution," he said, stressing that Parliament should also have a role to play instead of leaving the "important social issue" entirely up to the courts. "Having said that, we see the direction that the courts are taking now," Mr. Cauchon said. The government could move as early as today to seek a stay of the court decision, pending a Supreme Court decision.
An appeal would buy time for the Justice Department, but even the Liberals’ own research bureau has warned that the government will ultimately lose the fight. If the high court agrees to hear the case, it could take another two years before making a decision. The case could become moot in the meantime, considering Paul Martin, the frontrunner to replace retiring Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, has said that it’s time for the government to stop appealing. The court, instead of telling the federal government to change its law, struck down the existing definition of marriage in Canada – "the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. The new definition is "the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others," the court said. "Exclusion perpetuates the view that same-sex relationships are less worthy of recognition than opposite sex relationships," the court said in a unanimous, 61-page written ruling. "In doing so, it offends the dignity of persons in same-sex relationships."
The federal government is responsible for the definition of marriage and the provinces oversee the solemnization, including the marriage registration. The decision, which dealt with seven Ontario couples, ordered the provincial government to register marriages. Ontario Attorney General Norm Sterling said he would not stand in the way of the court’s ruling. "If the decision today says that two people of the same sex can get married, that is the law of the land, then we will register," he said. But Alberta Premier Ralph Klein promised to do everything in his power to block the decision and his officials urged the federal government to ask the Supreme Court of Canada to be the final arbiter in the case. Gay and lesbians activists, along with several MPs, urged the federal government to stop the legal fight. "I am calling on Jean Chrétien, the prime minister, as part of his legacy, to leave a legacy of respect," said New Democrat MP Svend Robinson, who is gay. "Stop the appeals, stop the obstruction, stop the waste of taxpayers’ money."
The ruling orders the Ontario government to register the January 2001 marriages of Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa and Elaine and Anne Vautour. The couples married in ceremonies in January 2001 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, using an ancient Christian tradition that allowed them to avoid having to get city-issued marriage licences. The court decision dismisses every argument from the federal Justice Department, including its contention that the purpose of marriage is procreation. The court also rejects the fear of churches that gay marriage infringes on religious freedom because it would force them to conduct ceremonies against their will. "This case is about the legal institution of marriage," the court said. "We do not view this case as, in any way, dealing or interfering with the religious institution of marriage."
As Mr. Cauchon considered his options, an all-party parliamentary committee met behind closed doors yesterday to put the finishing touches on a report, crafted from months of public hearings on whether gays and lesbians should be permitted to wed. Mr. Cauchon said he wants to consider the report’s recommendations. But there were complaints among committee members that the political process has been usurped by the courts. "We apparently have judge-made law in this country and we’re just here for decoration," said John McKay, a Liberal MP who opposes same-sex marriage. Vic Toews, justice critic for the Canadian Alliance, called on the federal government to appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court of Canada. Mr. Toews also says that the government should not be shy about using the Constitution’s notwithstanding clause, a safety valve that allows politicians to override unpopular court decisions.
June 12, 2003
Toronto Sees Pink Gold In Gay Weddings As Americans Look North To Tie The Knot
by Jan Prout, 365Gay.com Newscenter, Toronto Bureau Toronto, Ontario –
Toronto’s city clerk has been deluged with calls from gay and lesbian couples across the US and Canada inquiring about marriage. Although the marriages likely would not be recognized in the US, American gays are able to obtain a marriage license from the clerk of any municipality in Ontario. The province has no residency requirement.
The procedure is relatively easy. All that is required is both parties going to the local city or town hall, filling out an application and paying the $110 (Cdn), fee, about $85 (US). You must be at least 18 years of age, have photo ID such as a drivers license, along with identification like a birth certificate or passport. There is no waiting period. You can get your license in the morning and get hitched in the afternoon.
Some cities in Ontario even have wedding chapels. But, if you want to wait, the license is valid for 90 days before you have to get married. Otherwise it will expire and the process must be started all over. A marriage can be performed by a judge, a justice of the peace or by a minister. Following the wedding the couple fills out a marriage registry form and the person who performed the service forwards it to the Office of the Registrar General for registration. It usually takes about 3 months for the government to officially register the marriage.
The simplicity of the system is expected to make gay marriage a huge summer business in Toronto. "Gay Toronto is already a major tourist destination and gay marriage is just one more reason for people to come here," said Ric Tremaine, the President of the Gay Tourism Guild of Toronto an organization that promotes LGBT tourism to Canada’s largest city.
An outbreak of SARS which has been widely reported in the press has seen tourism in general drop by as much as 40 percent this summer. But, Tremaine tells 365Gay.com that so far there has been little effect on gay tourism. With Pride celebrations coming at the end of the month, Tremaine predicts the city will see a huge influx of visitors.
Last year, Pride, the third largest in North America, attracted a million people to the parade which wraps up the weeklong festival. Tremaine, who owns Gloucester Square Inns two five star heritage inns in the city’s gay village, says his phones have been ringing off the hook with people enquiring about marriage. The company has two wedding suits and offers packages including organizing the wedding itself from the limousines to the location and the reception.
June 29, 2003
Fifty-four Newlyweds lead Toronto’s Pride Parade
The threat of rain and the stigma of SARS didn’t keep crowds away from the Gay Pride Parade today, the showcase event of Gay Pride Week that drew hundreds of thousands of revellers, and was led by limos carrying newlywed gay couples. The parade route was lined a half-dozen people deep with faces reflecting just about every facet of the city’s multicultural makeup. Elderly couples stood alongside punks with Mohawks, shameless men wearing only leather codpieces, and women completely comfortable hanging out topless in the hot sun.
Forecasts had called for rain but the sun was shining as the parade kicked off, and although ominous clouds drifted overhead, the weather was perfect, hovering around 28C. The only thing raining down from the sky was the traditional streams and sprays from water guns. The snipers were on floats, in the crowd, and on the rooftops, shooting anyone looking too dry. Around 12,000 people and dozens of floats slowly made their way from Church Street, in Toronto’s gay neighbourhood, into the downtown core along Yonge Street.
Leading the way near the front of the pack were a bunch of white limousines, carrying newlywed gay couples who tied the knot earlier this month, after an Ontario court ruled homosexuals deserve the same rights to wed as heterosexuals. Michael Leshner and Michael Stark, who won the court victory at the Ontario Court of Appeal, had their faces painted in rainbow colours, and rode in a blue convertible. "I feel very honoured to be here, to just share the outpouring of love we’ve had," Stark said. "Everyone have a great day today," was his message for the crowd, "it’s a great day for Canada." More than 250 gay couples have been married at Toronto City Hall and at local non-demoninational churches in the past weeks, including around 30 American couples. Each slow-moving float provided a different mood, some blasting a thumping beat that got the crowd dancing, others leading impromptu karaoke sessions with songs like ‘It’s Raining Men’, ‘YMCA’, and ‘Shake Your Bootie’.
They were followed by a marching troop of bagpipers who wore their traditional kilts and caps, but adorned with raindow-coloured ribbons. "There’s probably more for everybody here, as opposed to (being) focused on one party, or group of people," said a man who only gave his name as Anthony. He recently moved to Toronto from Sydney, Australia – where there’s also a huge gay parade – and said he was impressed by Sunday’s show. But not everything in the parade was greeted by cheers of support. Groans sprang from the crowd as a group from Totally Naked Toronto Men walked past. They were a few men – of varying weights and physiques – who had nothing to hide, despite being arrested for public nudity in previous years.
As of early Sunday evening, no arrests had been made. Organizers say the Toronto parade is among the biggest in the world, comparable to festivities in New York and Sydney. Although it was feared that SARS might keep the crowds away, attendance was good along the entire route, even if it was a slightly down from previous years. Like other celebrations, the timing of the march marks the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969, when New York police clashed with the city’s gays and lesbians. Other weekend parades taking place around the world included celebrations in Madrid, Berlin, San Francisco and New York.
Canada gives gays hope for change
by John Ritter, USA Today
Toronto – In their hearts, Marc and Barry Chametzky have been married 13 years. Marc even took Barry’s name when they adopted Nicholas four years ago. But not until now did matrimony become more than an impossible dream for the California couple. The Chametzkys flew here to tie the knot over Gay Pride weekend in the only place in North America where marriage between same-sex couples is legal. Two weeks ago, Ontario’s highest court struck down Canada’s ban on same-sex marriages. Days later, Canada’s ruling Liberal government gave its blessing to legislation that would extend the ruling to every province. A majority here approve of the actions – yet another fissure with the United States, after Canada’s snub of the Iraq invasion and its move to decriminalize marijuana. This country’s historic shift is expected to embolden efforts in the USA to legalize same-sex marriage and provide a basis for lawsuits if Canadian marriages by gay Americans are rejected at home.
"It is the beginning of a true debate in this country on what marriage itself really is," said Patrick Fagan, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. The U.S. Supreme Court’s rebuff last week of a Texas sodomy law, barring states from prosecuting private sex acts between consenting adults, also bodes well for change, experts say. "There’s real ammunition for future challenges," said Nathaniel Persily, a University of Pennsylvania law professor. "If we apply heightened scrutiny because of sexual orientation like we do for race and gender, it’s very difficult to see a compelling state interest in denying same-sex marriages."
Exhilaration and dread
The shift up north hasn’t set off a marital rush across the border by gays and lesbians in the USA. Through Sunday, a relatively small number of American couples had plunked down $85 for marriage licenses in Canada’s largest city. Those who did, many repeating their vows soon after in a City Hall chapel, found exhilaration in their new status – and dread about returning home. "To finally have the legal standing, at least for a few days, is just unimaginable," Barry Chametzky, 42, said. "And it’s a bit daunting because of the legal issues that will be involved." When the Chametzkys arrive in Los Angeles today to start a weeklong honeymoon cruise, legally they’ll be the same two single men who left last week. Not only does no state recognize marriage between gay couples, 37 explicitly reserve it for heterosexuals.
Vermont offers status close to marriage, "civil union." Lawsuits in Massachusetts and New Jersey, if successful, could crack the wall against same-sex marriage. But for now, even in a few states like California that give gay couples a measure of legal rights and protections, marriage remains taboo. Foes of same-sex marriage aim to keep it that way. "The homosexual lobby is intent on re-engineering our society and a major goal is to deconstruct marriage," said Ken Connor, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative family values group. "We will speak up when our leaders fail to rise to the defense of marriage. We will exert pressure." Connor said pro-family groups will try to advance a House-initiated constitutional amendment to define marriage exclusively as a union between a man and a woman.
Though it’s given little chance of passage, Connor predicts "polarization" over same-sex marriage. Many conservatives see gay lifestyles as deviant, unhealthy and anti-family. But 2000 Census data for California found gay-couple households and married heterosexuals similar. Gay couples raised an average 2.01 children, compared with 2.08 for married couples. Virtually the same proportions owned homes, with the same $225,000 median value. The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act permits a state to disregard a gay couple’s marriage in another state. But gay advocates say that clashes with a long-standing tradition of "comity," under which states and foreign countries accept marriages performed outside their borders. States that ban first cousins from marrying honor those unions from other states.
When heterosexual married couples move, they don’t register or have to prove they’re married. "Same-sex couples will do exactly the same thing," said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, a group that promotes marriage equality. "Only they will encounter, at least for a time, a mix of respect, discrimination and uncertainty." Rights and benefits When they apply for jobs and mortgages, buy insurance, pay taxes, seek Social Security benefits and settle estates, gay married couples can be legally discriminated against in most states. The IRS already has said same-sex couples married in Canada can’t file married returns.
Many states extend some spouse benefits to same-sex partners, but gay wage-earners have to pay federal taxes on health coverage their partners use. Straight filers don’t. Same-sex partners in most states can’t share health insurance and can be denied inheritance if a partner dies. California set up a domestic partnership registry in 1999 and grants same-sex couples some marriage rights. A pending bill would give them almost all those they don’t have, including the ability to file joint state tax returns and ask courts for child support and alimony. Hawaii and Connecticut also offer same-sex couples some partner benefits. Sixty local jurisdictions have registries. Cook County, Ill., which includes Chicago, is considering one. "There were many predictions about what civil unions would do to marriage and values in Vermont," said Richard McCoy, state public health statistics chief. "But people see it hasn’t changed our society in a negative fashion." In three years, Vermont has approved 5,693 unions, 85% to out-of-staters.
A Gallup Poll in May found public approval of civil unions at 49% nationally, up from 42% in 2000. States may try to avoid lawsuits over same-sex marriage by recognizing gay partners as "family members" instead of spouses," said Lynne Gold-Bikin, a Philadelphia divorce lawyer. "We’re such a Bible Belt country, so moralistic, I don’t see legal status happening that quickly," she said. "We’re more progressive," said Fiona Jeffries, 31, a Brandon, Manitoba, health promotions worker here for Gay Pride revelry with her partner, psychologist Karen Narduzzi, 36. They decided to apply for a marriage license while they’re here. "You Americans don’t have enough church-state separation. Most of your politicians are pushing a Christian values agenda." Canadian media speculate that a surge of gay tourists coming to marry could boost tourism battered by the SARS outbreak here. At least one tour operator plans to market gay and lesbian wedding packages, including air fare, lodging and limo service. But bookings in hotels that typically fill up for Gay Pride’s dyke march, leather ball, downtown parade and other amusements had declined, The Globe and Mail reported
June 29, 2003
Toronto–North America’s gay-pride capital
by Colin McClelland, Associated Press Toronto
A huge street parade Sunday celebrating gay pride included newly married homosexual couples who traveled to Toronto to get hitched legally in what has become North America’s new gay capital. The event was one of many around the world this weekend celebrating tolerance, even in places that have traditionally been hostile to homosexuality.
In India, where homosexuality is a crime, dozens of people marched in Calcutta carrying a huge rainbow flag in a rare public demonstration to demand rights for gays and lesbians. Revelers also turned out in Venezuela and in Brazil. More than 200,000 revelers celebrated Rio de Janeiro’s eighth annual gay pride parade, which featured floats and loud music along Copacabana beach. "Intolerance is the original form of violence," the government’s national public safety adviser, Luiz Eduardo Soares, said from one of the floats. "Any form of love is worthwhile," he added.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of revelers gathered on the main Kurfuerstendamm shopping street in Berlin – a city that in 2001 elected Germany’s first openly gay mayor. Organizers called on the government to strengthen anti-discrimination laws and recognize persecution because of a person’s sexuality as a ground for granting asylum.
Marchers in Canada’s largest city cheered recent court rulings that expanded homosexual rights in North America. In Toronto, the crowd included Michael Leshner and Michael Stark, who have become symbols of homosexual rights in Canada. The two were married on June 10, hours after an Ontario appeals court ruled as unconstitutional Canada’s definition of marriage as only between a man and a woman – paving the way for legalized gay unions. The gay marriage ruling prompted Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s government to promise a new law that legalized same-sex marriage while allowing churches to decide whether to sanctify them. Mr. Leshner and Mr. Stark, their faces painted in rainbow colors, rode in a blue Mitsubishi convertible in the parade, exchanging kisses to cheers from the crowd.
Until the new law takes effect, perhaps by winter, the court ruling stands. City Hall was open Sunday to marry visiting couples.
Canada is only the third nation to legalize same-sex marriage, along with The Netherlands and Belgium. Canadian Andy Cahyono, 25, and his American partner Shawn Harrington 27, exchanged vows in a civil ceremony at the City Hall marriage chapel, witnessed by two members of a gay rights group. "We thought it would be a great idea to get married during the whole Pride weekend," said Harrington, student union food services manager at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
With the United States only legalizing gay sex last week, Mr. Harrington knew his conservative home state was unlikely to consider same-sex marriage any time soon. Since the Canadian court ruling, scores of homosexual couples have come to Ontario from across Canada and the United States for the same reason. Teresa Tedesco, director of legislative services at Toronto City Hall, said the city has issued 255 licences for same-sex marriages in recent weeks, including 30 to U.S. couples. An anticipated rush "hasn’t really materialized because a lot of people have said they didn’t have time to prepare or plan," Ms. Tedesco said. Still, the increase is a lot compared to the zero figure of before.
The parade along Church Street, the downtown epicenter of the city’s gay and lesbian community, is an annual event that usually draws more than 500,000 people. This year’s crowd was slightly smaller, due to the SARS outbreak. Signs showed the marriage issue was on people’s minds, with one saying "Queer liberation does not end at the altar" and another featuring U.S. and Canadian flags proclaiming: "Just married. Thank you Canada." City wedding co-ordinator Jeanne Bowkett said five officials were on duty to perform weddings until the evening in case couples turn up after the parade. All ceremonies are non-denominational, she said, but they can retain vestiges of tradition. "Sometimes they walk down the aisle to music," Ms. Bowkett said, "not necessarily Here Comes the Bride.
October 14, 2003
Landmark marriagein Whitehorse hailed as ‘so healing’
by Sarah Elizabeth Brown
Two Whitehorse residents stood before their God and community and exchanged wedding vows over the weekend. But in doing what so many other couples have been doing for centuries, Will Petricko and Russ Haggerty made history in the Yukon through what is being hailed as the territory’s first legal same-sex marriage. Being able – legally – to say they’re married and have the community accept them as such makes all the difference, the two men said. "It was just so healing to me – for all the abuse I suffered in high school, being bullied because I was the queer kid," said Petricko, 52. Being recognized as a married couple as much as heterosexual couples goes a long way to heal the hurts created from being considered a second-class citizen in terms of legal rights, he said.
"We really wanted to bring it to the community," said Haggerty, 53. "That’s really what it was all about … full community celebration." Couples have been celebrating their marriages in the "ghettoized" gay community for years, he said, but haven’t been accepted by the community as a whole, until now. He said mentors who helped him come to terms with his sexuality were on his mind last Friday. Some of them didn’t survive the AIDS epidemic and couldn’t live to see a day when their marriages were recognized legally. "They never had the opportunity to celebrate their love, their courageous love … in the full community," said Haggerty. Last Friday morning, Haggerty and Petricko drove with a Vancouver pastor to the B.C. side of the Yukon-B.C. border to perform the legal ceremony at a spot overlooking Windy Arm.
Both men were so choked up with tears they couldn’t speak properly. That evening, they reiterated their vows before 200 to 250 people in a packed United Church ceremony in Whitehorse, a service that didn’t leave a dry eye in the place, said Haggerty. The evening ceremony started with two of the couple’s first nations friends calling the community from the four directions, and continued with Petricko and Haggerty walking in together to a traditional hymn. One of the songs Petricko has written, entitled Humanity Family, was also sung as part of the service. "It was wonderful to see the affirmation from so many people from such a broad spectrum of the community," said Petricko. While the court cases, legal challenges and political wrangling this past summer have meant the couple’s marriage is now recognized in law, it’s been hurtful to follow the issue in the news, said Petricko, "to see your rights as a human being held out there as a political issue." After court challenges in B.C. and Ontario, those two provinces began accepting same-sex unions during the summer.
The federal government has sent its draft legislation making same-sex marriage legal to the Supreme Court of Canada for its opinion, a move that’s expected to make the bill virtually indestructible. The nation’s top court has set aside time next spring to hear arguments. Originally, Petricko and Haggerty had planned to marry legally in August in Vancouver, but they changed their minds because they thought it was important to take that step in their own community. Because of the conflict between those for and against same-sex marriages, they decided to get married in Whitehorse to put familiar faces to the national issue, so that the community "realizes that these are real flesh and blood people."
It feels different to be married and not simply living together, Petricko said. "It’s a very solid commitment – it makes commitment real. It’s not just saying how you feel, it’s something you articulate – you make it reality. "It was a very sacred moment," he said of being wed. "We felt the power of God’s love uniting us." The choice of presiding pastor had significant meaning for Petricko and Haggerty. The couple knew they were meant to be together for the rest of their lives about a year and a half ago when they were participating in a Good Friday walk with other parishioners from the First United Church in the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, one of the poorest and most drug-ridden sections in Canada. Rev. Brian Burke, who led them on that walk, married the two last Friday.
They’d been taking a large cross to the police station, courthouse, soup kitchen and other such places when they saw a pair of junkies shooting up down an alley from where they were standing. It was a powerful moment for them both, said Petricko, because it was then that they realized they were kindred spirits with the same purpose. Burke was in that alley with them and realized what it meant to them, said Petricko. "We feel very united in our purpose," he said. "We’re on this planet to help other people."
Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario, Canada ( http://www.thestar.com/ ) http://www.thestar.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=thestar/Layout/Artic le_Type1&c=Article&cid=1075417808988&call_pageid=968256290204&col=9683501167 95
January 30, 2004
Why same-sex debate drags on
by Chantal Hébert
The biggest hurdle standing between marriage and same-sex couples in Canada has been Parliament, not the courts. While the body of recent legal opinion on the issue is virtually unanimous in its support of granting gay and heterosexual couples the same marriage rights, there has never been an equivalent level of consensus at the political level.
Indeed, if Ottawa had responded to an Ontario Court of Appeal ruling last spring by bringing forward same-sex marriage legislation, the risk would not have been that the bill could have been successfully challenged in the courts at a later date. Rather, the risk was that it might have died an early death on the floor of one of the two houses of Parliament, never making it into law. Last fall, the House of Commons only narrowly voted against retaining the man-woman definition of marriage, demonstrating that the government could not, even if it wanted to, speak with one voice on the issue.
Even so-called progressive parties such as the NDP and the Bloc Québécois have to contend with some internal dissent on same-sex marriage. As for the Conservative caucus, its opposition to the move is unlikely to mellow, given that the few former Tory members who did support same-sex marriage happen to be those who decided to abandon ship rather than cohabit with the Canadian Alliance. The government went to the Supreme Court with a reference last summer exclusively to temper the political opposition to same-sex marriage by getting the highest court in the land to bolster the case for it.
It is largely in the same spirit that Prime Minister Paul Martin has added a fourth question to the federal government’s reference this week. The government is now specifically asking the Court to say whether the current heterosexual definition of marriage is constitutional. As an extra obstacle in the way of same-sex marriage, the question does not amount to much. The widespread sense of the legal community is that those who assume the Court will find the current definition of marriage to be unduly restrictive are on fairly safe ground at present. Nor did Martin – in amending the reference – temper the support of the government for same-sex marriage.
If he had decided to change course on the issue – as many in his caucus hoped he would – he could have done so by withdrawing the original reference and scrapping the draft bill on same-sex marriage. He could have endeavoured to defend the current definition of marriage in court. Government lawyers could have argued the case of offering same-sex couples the substitute of civil unions so as to retain the exclusive heterosexual nature of marriage. A government change of heart on same-sex marriage would likely have enraged a lot of socially progressive Canadians. And none of the alternative approaches available to the Prime Minister would likely have changed the end result.
But Martin would have been shown to have been dragged to the altar of same-sex marriage under judicial duress. The decision to expand the reference will almost certainly postpone matters. Rather than hear arguments on the matter in April, the Court may do so only in the fall. But those who claim this means Canadians will not get a chance to debate same-sex marriage in the upcoming election are overstating their case. The election is not about how a court should or would interpret the Charter – judges do not make their rulings based on partisan outcomes – but rather on what the policy of the government of the day on the issue is. On that score, Martin has never been clearer than this week.
After much public soul-searching, he has decided his lawyers will not stand up in court for the man-woman restrictions on marriage. Nor will they flirt with legally improbable substitute solutions to full-fledged marriage for gay couples. In the unlikely event the courts uphold the current definition of marriage, Martin claims it is still the view of his government that access to the institution should be extended to gay couples.
On that basis, any Liberal candidate who portrayed his government in the election as anything other than supportive of same-sex marriage would be distorting reality. More important, looking beyond the campaign to the day when Parliament will inevitably be asked to adopt same-sex legislation in line with the Charter, would a Liberal government really need a Supreme Court ruling against the current definition of marriage to carry the day for gay marriage?
The Prime Minister, for one, seems to think so. And given the strong feelings against same-sex marriage running through his cabinet and caucus – feelings he himself cultivated by sitting on the fence on an equality issue for so long – he may, regretfully, have a point. . Chantal Hébert’s national affairs column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. email@example.com.
Gay Marriage In The Balance As Canada Prepares For Election
by Ben Thompson, 365Gay.com Newscenter, Ottawa Bureau
Ottawa –Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin called a general election Sunday that will pit his creaking Liberal Party against the newly formed Conservatives the result of which could have an impact on same-sex marriage. The election call was widely anticipated even though Martin has a year left in his mandate and the party’s standing in the polls has dropped significantly the result of a series of scandals involving millions of dollars paid to ad agencies with ties to the Liberal Party. The election will be held June 28.
The most recent polls show Martin will be returned but with a minority government. If that is what happens Martin will be forced to depend on the New Democratic Party to stay in power. For the opposition Conservatives the campaign will revolve around the Liberal Party scandals and same-sex marriage. Martin’s predecessor as Liberal leader and Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, refused to appeal court rulings in Ontario and Quebec that overturned the country’s ban on same-sex marriage opting instead to rewrite Canadian law to legalize gay marriage.
The draft legislation was sent to the Supreme Court of Canada for a constitutional opinion. Martin’s government recalled the constitutional questions put to the court and added the possibility of civil unions, although Martin maintains he supports gay marriage. The maneuver has delayed the date when the high Court was to hear the case from spring to late fall, and avoided the issue being front and center during an election campaign.
In the meantime, a third province, Quebec, also overturned the federal ban on gay marriage. The Conservatives, a melding of the old Progressive Conservative Party and the right wing Canadian Alliance, under former Alliance leader Stephen Harper oppose gay marriage. The Tories, like Republicans in the US, blame "activist judges" for striking down laws that "protect traditional families".
The party wants all appointees to the Supreme Court of Canada to be approved by Parliament. Currently high court judges are appointed by the Prime Minister. If the Conservatives were to win, the party has already said it would invoke an opt out clause in the Constitution to void any Supreme Court decision on gay marriage.
The party’s campaign will portray the Liberals as too left of center and not representative of Canadian "values". But a minority Liberal government, propped up by the NDP, could have enough votes to push through same-sex marriage legislation. The New Democrats are long time supporters of gay marriage. Same-sex marriage has divided the country for the past two years, polls indicate. The most recent, by Leger Marketing and taken between April 6 and 11, shows that forty-three per cent of respondents support gay marriage, while 47 per cent are opposed.
The poll also shows that gay bashing by the Conservatives could backfire on the party. Almost 60 per cent of Canadians surveyed indicated they believe being homophobic is as bad as being racist or anti-Semitic. The campaign officially gets underway today and political observers predict it will be the nastiest in modern history.
Salaam http://www.salaamcanada.org/intro.html The Globe & Mail, Toronto, Ontario,Canada ( http://www.globeandmail.com ) http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20040520/GAY20/TPNational/TopStories
May 20, 2004
Gay Jordanian now ‘gloriously free’ in Canada-Sent to Canada to ‘straighten out,’ he founded support group for Muslims
by Marina Jimenez
When the family of Al-Hussein, son of a wealthy Jordanian politician, found out he was gay, they threw him down the stairs. While he was recovering in hospital from a broken leg and smashed jaw, his younger brother shot him in the ankle. A bureaucrat in the Jordanian government, his brother was never prosecuted for this act of public violence because it was considered a "family matter." Mr. Hussein knew that under Islamic law, he had got off lightly: He could be stoned to death for committing homosexual acts, or murdered by his family in an honour killing. In 2000, Mr. Hussein’s father agreed to send him to Canada to "straighten out."
Instead, the wayward and talented son, the "artistic" one with the flamboyant wardrobe, founded a gay support group for Muslims. He made a successful refugee claim and is now starring in a documentary by Filmblanc production company on Canada’s gay refugee claimants titled ‘Gloriously Free‘, after words in the Canadian national anthem. "I am doing the film because I want people to know what homosexuals go through in the Middle East," said Mr. Hussein, a youthful 47-year-old in cut-off shorts and a sleeveless red T-shirt, his fingers and ears adorned with silver jewellery.
"I have lost everything, but I don’t regret coming here. Now I can walk down the street without having to watch my back, wondering if I will be killed." When he left Amman, he gave up a 20-year career as a set designer for Jordan Television, and signed over all his assets – a BMW and Suzuki Jeep, a home and interior design business and his inheritance – to his brother, the one who had tried to kill him. "I don’t approve of what my brother did, but I understand why he did it. It was about preserving the family’s honour," he says, pulling down his sock to reveal several white scars and tapping his false teeth.
The documentary, to be aired on OMNI Television this fall, will also have testimonials from four more gay refugees: a Jamaican man who was beaten; a Brazilian singer whose father forced him to have an operation on his vocal cords to cure his "effeminate" voice; a former U.S. oil-drilling-company manager who is HIV-positive, and a Mexican man. "Canada has become a haven for gay refugees and we are tapping into why this is," said Noemi Weis, president of Toronto-based Filmblanc. Mr. Hussein’s life story is one of wealth and privilege, as well as secrecy and shame, as he struggled to fit into a traditional Arab culture that considers homosexuality the greatest sin.
The family moved in the same social and political circles as the royal family. His father, who served both as deputy defence minister and as an adviser to the royal family, received special permission from the late King Hussein I for his son to have the same name. Mr. Hussein was educated at the best private schools and grew up in a five-bedroom house, surrounded by servants. There were weekends at Dead Sea resorts, and summer vacations at five-star hotels in Paris. While still a teenager, Mr. Hussein began a clandestine affair with a family "slave" named Amber, a gift to the family from King Hussein’s uncle.
"Because of the strict segregation of genders in Arab culture, there is a lot of closeted homosexuality," he says. "Most men at some stage have sex with a man because they all have needs. Women are supposed to stay virgins until they marry." Rumours about his homosexuality began to spread, and his father forced him to marry in 1986 when he was 29. He told his fiancée the truth, but she accepted the match because of the Hussein family’s social cachet.
The couple had three children through artificial insemination. Mr. Hussein tried to conduct his gay affairs discreetly, but in 1996, he fell in love with the head of Jordan’s national judo team. He separated from his wife and built a house on the outskirts of Amman where the lovers could meet in secret. One night, his brother caught the two men kissing, and, enraged, threw Mr. Hussein down the stairs, breaking his leg. He underwent surgery, and spent three months in the hospital recovering, with an armed bodyguard posted outside his room. His brother later shot him in the hospital lobby after Mr. Hussein’s lover came to visit him.
When he was released, it was not to his own home, but to a tiny servant’s room with bars on the window in his brother’s home. He had become his family’s prisoner. A sympathetic aunt in Toronto persuaded his father that Canada could save him. And so Mr. Hussein gave up his pampered life and came to Toronto with $300 (U.S.).
He went on to form Salaam, a gay rights organization for Muslims, as well as Wattan, an organization that helps gay refugees. Recently, he summoned the courage to tell his 15-year-old daughter in an e-mail why he left the country. "She wrote me back and said, ‘You’re still my father and I love you and accept you,’" he said.
April 29, 2004
Battle lines drawn over gay marriage – Opponents, supporters launch campaigns
by Kim Lunman and Gloria Galloway
Ottawa and Toronto – The federal government’s controversial bill to legalize gay marriage will be the target of a fierce campaign between the religious right and gay-rights groups during the forthcoming election. The public-relations blitz over same-sex marriage started in earnest yesterday with news conferences on both sides of the debate.
On Parliament Hill, Canadians for Equal Marriage unveiled their plans for a national campaign to support MPs who back the legislation while publicly targeting those who are against the bill. In Vancouver, the not-for-profit organization Focus on the Family offered up what it called former homosexuals for interviews in its ongoing lobby to uphold traditional marriage and defeat Canadian MPs who support the legislation. "There’s no question this is a David and Goliath campaign," Alex Munter, co-chairman of Canadians for Equal Marriage, told reporters as the group launched its cross-country on-line campaign featuring ballot boxes marked with two choices: opponent of equality and supporter of equality.
The coalition, including the gay-rights group EGALE Canada, the Canadian Psychological Association, the United Church of Canada, Canadian Labour Congress and Canadian Federation of Students, says its opponents in the fight to win public opinion for the bill are planning to spend $1.5-million in advertising during the election campaign.
But Derek Rogusky, vice-president of family policy for Focus on the Family Canada, said his group has nowhere near $1-million for campaign advertising and denies allegations it is being backed by U.S. funds. "We’re a charitable organization that works very hard at strengthening families, strengthening marriages, the parenting relations, the spousal relationship, that type of thing."
Same-sex marriage is a potential wedge issue in the federal election, expected to be called any day now. The bill has deeply divided the Liberal caucus with nearly a third of government MPs previously saying they would not support the legislation. The bill, which is before the Supreme Court for constitutional review, will not come before the House of Commons for a vote until after the election. At the crux of the court reference is whether the bill would be in keeping with guarantees under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and whether religious institutions could be exempt from performing wedding ceremonies if doing so would violate their beliefs. It also asks whether the traditional definition of marriage could be retained.
Conservative Party Leader Stephen Harper said yesterday the bill will be a key issue during the campaign. "The difference in our positions are clear," he said. "The position of the party is that this issue should be subject to a free vote in the House and, if elected Prime Minister, we will withdraw the Supreme Court reference and instead settle this issue in Parliament." He said, however, that "there are other issues that are higher on the public agenda."
The debate concerning same-sex marriage legislation was rekindled yesterday as the Senate voted 59 to 11 in favour of another controversial bill to include homosexuals in Canada’s hate-crime laws by 59 to 11. "It’s a very historic day," said NDP MP Libby Davies, who is a lesbian. "It’s also a very important victory for gays and lesbians to now know that they have this basic protection in the law." Some critics of the bill – including religious groups – argued it would allow special treatment for homosexuals and could allow the Bible to be branded hate literature.
It will amend the Criminal Code to add the term sexual orientation to identifiable groups "distinguished by colour, race, religion, and ethnic origin," in hate-propaganda sections In one of the nation’s most hotly contested ridings, same-sex marriage supporters taped a banner to the campaign office of Toronto-Danforth Liberal MP Dennis Mills yesterday urging voters to defeat candidates such as him who oppose legalized gay marriages.
May 29, 2004
Welcome to Canada’s gay high school-Toronto’s Triangle program offers an educational refuge
Despite this country’s reputation for tolerance, young people still face discrimination for being gay, writes Alanna Mitchell. When school life becomes so hostile they can’t face it any more, Toronto’s Triangle program offers an educational refuge
by Alanna Mitchell
The classroom is makeshift, constructed by members of the congregation of this Toronto church in a building bee one weekend.
And it’s cramped. About a dozen high-school students, ranging across all grades, bundle their legs underneath tables that have been pushed together in two facing rows. A bookshelf beside them holds the Concise Oxford Dictionary, Webster’s New World Thesaurus and The Encyclopedia of Gay and Lesbian Film and Video. The clock at the front of the room wears a feather boa in four colours.
This is the only high school in Canada for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual students. It’s an outpost of the city’s public school system called the Triangle program, a nod to the pink triangle badges gays were forced to wear during Hitler’s rule in Germany. While lots of gay students do fine in schools across Canada, the kids who have enrolled in the Triangle program don’t. They have found their way here from all over Ontario – and even from other provinces – because they felt alienated by school environments they say didn’t allow them to thrive and also acknowledge being gay.
Alex Rafferty, one of the refugees from the mainstream school system, is typical. She still can’t get over how an American friend reacted when she complained that it was hard to be 15 and lesbian. "You live in Canada!" the friend said, aghast. "You don’t know homophobia!" Alex says she does. With a horseshoe-shaped ring hanging between her nostrils, and goth-influenced clothes and makeup, she may look tough. But she shakes her head gently as she recalls the stream of hostile e-mail she got after telling a friend at her Catholic girls school she thought she might be lesbian.
"I don’t understand it," she says, looking a bit shaky as she talks about it. "They were friends of mine when they thought I was straight." Yes, this country has become famous for its gay-friendly laws, especially last year’s ruling in Ontario that allowed same-sex marriages. That alone catapulted Canada to the top rung as a tolerant nation, setting a precedent that cities such as San Francisco are trying to follow and prompting the stodgy Economist magazine to dub Canada "rather cool."
But as Alex and the other teens crammed into this basement classroom at the Metropolitan Community Church can attest, the fabled gay-friendliness sometimes has an element of masquerade about it. Just look at the protests that took place this month in London, Ont., where some groups vociferously opposed a school-board proposal to pass policies aimed at stanching the flood of bullying directed at gay students. The protesters said they didn’t want kids to get the idea that it was "okay" to be gay. (In the end, the proposed changes – which included educating teachers and students about sexual diversity and having a contact person at each school to connect students with gay-friendly experts – passed.)
And in B.C., there was outrage over a play written and performed by drama students at the Vancouver-area Handsworth Secondary School that featured two young women kissing. After one performance, the school board demanded the kiss be dropped. Four parents had complained, and three teachers. The kiss vanished.
It’s hard to tell just from looking at them how much these kids had been through before they arrived in the Triangle program. Everyone knows that the journey toward adulthood is perilous. How different could their stories be? In some ways, they are the same tales of courage, despair, joy and painful self-discovery that every teen goes through. But for these kids, being gay or bisexual or lesbian or transgendered – often without the support of friends and family – has upped the ante.
Several have attempted suicide. At least two have arrived fresh from psychiatric wards (Alex is one of them). Several have been kicked out of the family home for being gay and now try to make ends meet on welfare while going to school. This is their school of last resort. If they can’t make a go of it here, they won’t be able to go anywhere else. There is a trace of desperation in this room, but mostly it’s acceptance and relief. This is their place. Patty Barclay, the program’s only full-time teacher, is preparing for the afternoon group work, known in the school’s lingo as the "queer curriculum," that sets it apart from other schools.
Ms. Barclay and other staff members over the years have created a tightly focused curriculum designed to appeal to these students. Mornings are devoted to individual learning, which means that someone doing Grade 10 math can be working beside a Grade 9 science student. The teachers move through the group, helping each in turn. The afternoon sessions represent Triangle’s heart and soul, a course of study on issues, literature and history of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people that can be grafted to the different abilities of students, who could be anywhere from 14 to 23. Ms. Barclay begins to read aloud. It’s a passage from The PowerBook by Jeanette Winterson, the British novelist who has been called both a "holy terror" and a "lesbian desperado."
This section is about a girl born in 17th-century Turkey to a family that didn’t want any more girls. The father wanted to drown her at birth, but the mother persuaded him to let her live as a boy. She ends up a spy who smuggles the first tulip bulbs to England, bulbs strapped to her groin like testicles. The room is silent. The students are taking in the language, which is lyrical, hopeful and wildly suggestive. Then, abruptly, Ms. Barclay stops. The task for the next few minutes, she tells them, is to use the tulip tale as the jumping-off point for their own stories. The ones who have been here longer immediately take up pen and paper. But a few others look shocked. They don’t have a clue how to continue. But they must, Ms. Barclay tells them firmly. "Trust where you’re going," she says.
Eventually, each student begins to write, some in loopy lines and others in sophisticated prose. Later, when they take turns reading their writing aloud, the room falls silent again, a sign of respect for even having attempted this task. Translated into curriculum credits, the work they produce during these classes will count toward English, history, social studies, personal life management and interdisciplinary studies. As in some of Toronto’s other alternative schools, a new term starts every three weeks, offering a quarter-credit for each subject. It’s education in small, manageable bites that has a better chance of keeping students coming to class than the year-long or semester-long version at other schools.
So far, nearly 250 students have gone through the unusual program, which began in September, 1996, after people at the Toronto school board realized that the dropout rate among lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgendered students – known collectively as lesbigay/trans – was higher than for other students. The board had tried to make schools friendly to all. In 1988, after five high-school kids killed Kenneth Zeller, a librarian teacher, in a gay-bashing in High Park, the board put in place a program designed to eliminate discrimination based on sexual orientation. But although the vast majority of gay students do fine in mainstream schools or at least bide their time there by hiding their orientation, gay students still report being abused in high numbers, and studies suggest that their suicide rates are higher than those of other young people. They also show greater rates of drug and alcohol use and incidence of depression.
Jeffrey White, who teaches at the program part-time, says the first task when students are admitted into Triangle is simply to try to put them back together as human beings. Only later do staff start teaching them academic skills. "I don’t think you end up at Triangle if you’ve been able to get by," says Mr. White, showing the barest hint of a smile. An awareness of gay issues and gay-related current affairs permeates much of the curriculum. For example, a timeline stretching across one long wall catalogues some of the victories and tragedies of gay life over the past centuries. Among them is the Second World War, when gays were gassed alongside Jews at Hitler’s behest.
Many of the high points identified on the timeline have happened in Canada in recent years, a source of pride here in this classroom.
There was last year’s same-sex marriage ruling in Ontario. And there was the legal victory of Marc Hall, the Ontario teenager who fought through the courts to be allowed to take his boyfriend to his high-school prom. He won.
On June 23, when these students attend their Pride Prom (the theme is Through the Looking Glass), they will remember that fight.
On the other hand, challenges remain. The offices of a film company in Toronto making a movie of Mr. Hall’s battle were broken into this week in the wake of an Internet campaign reviling the film. "It’s still not safe to be queer," Ms. Barclay says. It’s not that things are getting worse for Canada’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender minority. By almost any measure, they are getting better. But Ms. Barclay says she longs for the day when the values of younger, more tolerant Canadians begin to colour the Zeitgeist even more. Her goal is for the Triangle program to die the death of obsolescence, for all schools to be welcoming to all comers, for principals to stop telling her that if her students weren’t so darn flamboyant, they would do fine in the mainstream. She doesn’t see it happening in her lifetime.
• Alanna Mitchell is a senior feature writer at The Globe and Mail.
Tall, beefy and 18, Jordan LeMesurier has been enrolled in the Triangle program since January. His repartee comes quick and precise, underscored with crisp wit. Life has handed him more than his share of challenges. Born premature, he also suffers from Asberger’s syndrome (a form of autism) and an attention-deficit disorder that has required him to be in special-education classes throughout his school life. He managed to cope with the help of a tight group of friends in Oshawa, Ont., and his mother, who holds conservative values. But when he announced last June that he was gay, the friends dropped him like a stone. "It was classic denial," he says, shrugging. "I can’t really blame them. I blame it on their setting. The diversity in Oshawa consists of rednecks and mullets." He seems nonchalant now, but back then, "I pretty much felt like garbage," he confesses. He crashed his car in an attempt to end it all. Eventually, he ended up in a psychiatric ward in Toronto, four credits short of graduating. Then a nurse told him about Triangle.
He still remembers the first question he answered in class: Name a publication in Toronto. Too easy, he thought impatiently. "The Toronto Star." The class looked at him as the teacher said, "No – a queer publication." He’d never heard of one. He’s still baffled by how Oshawa, a bedroom community of Toronto, can feel so much less safe for him than the big city. If he didn’t have the Triangle program, he’s not sure where he’d be.
The goth with the nose ring seems a lot more fragile than some of the other students. Alex Rafferty arrived here on Halloween via a psychiatric ward, in flight from the girls Catholic high school she had been attending. She wasn’t out as a lesbian then. She wasn’t even certain herself. But the loud, frequent anti-queer comments from students and teachers made her feel highly vulnerable.
She remembers a religion teacher at school saying former prime minister Jean Chrétien should be excommunicated for refusing to ban same-sex marriages. "It was pretty hard to take," she says. Even more difficult was her friends’ reaction when word got out she might be lesbian and was attending the Triangle program. Alex suddenly faced mass rejection. Her father, who works in the media, is cheeringly supportive. But her mother, a teacher in the Catholic system, has struggled mightily with her daughter’s sexual orientation.
"You can tell she’s not comfortable with it," Alex says. "It’s okay to tell her about heterosexual relationships. But if I tell her about kissing a girl, she says: ‘Can we talk about something else?’ She makes an effort, though, and I appreciate it." Alex is the only gay or lesbian in her family, as far as she knows. She was the only lesbian patient at the hospital. It’s scary feeling that alone, she says.
Within 20 minutes of arriving at the Triangle classroom, another kid came up and asked, "Do you want to join our posse?" Alex’s reply: "Yes!"
Tall and gangly, Nathan Smith, 17, writes in a big, self-confident hand. He is the class clown, the one who is quick with a joke and a funny sexual reference. He has just arrived at Triangle and is trying to figure out how to be a student again after living on the streets and shelter-hopping in downtown Toronto for the past year and a half. He was 15 and living with his family in Sudbury when his parents found out he was gay. He had already been through routine beatings at school and had even reported the abuse to police. When his parents found out, they called him a disgrace to the family and threw him out on the street. He now wishes he had stood up for himself. Instead, he said goodbye to Sudbury and his family and vowed to start a new life. He made his way to Toronto and crashed at shelter after shelter, turning tricks and panhandling for spending money. A counsellor he ran into at one of the shelters told him about the Triangle program. He is on welfare now. He lives by himself in a rented room downtown and works a few hours a week at a Starbucks in the heart of Toronto’s gay community near Church Street. Last Christmas, he phoned home to Sudbury. The conversations with his parents, brother and sister were stilted and brief. Nathan tries to look brisk about it, but then says: "I don’t plan on calling them again, ever, ever." Then he regains his swagger. "Look at me now. I’m in school; I have a part-time job . . . I have everything right now."
The quietest student in the class, Adam DaSilva, 17, is slight, motionless and dignified. His parents found out he was gay two Christmases ago – shortly after he came unwillingly to the realization himself – after they came across something he had written. They confronted the youngest of their three children with the evidence. He admitted it. His father spat in his face and kicked him out. He fled to a friend’s house and didn’t see his parents again for seven months. He had grown up in a strongly Roman Catholic family, and attended Catholic schools. When he finally came to terms with the fact that he was gay, he was terrified. "It made me hate myself," he says in his soft voice. "I didn’t want to become gay. Finally, I realized it wasn’t a choice." He talked to the social worker at his high school, where he was clearly not thriving, and she suggested Triangle. He wasn’t convinced. There was a bit of dabbling in drugs, he says, eyes downcast, fiddling with the diamond stud in his ear, and a lot of despair. Finally, he arrived at the program and realized he was just like everybody else. Now, he dreams of becoming an actor or dancer. He has been accepted at one of Toronto’s performing-arts high schools for next year. Recently, he moved back home, and says he’s grateful for the shelter, but he notices his parents welcome news of his sister’s romance while he is asked to avoid mentioning his own love life.
Adrian Daniels, better known as Junior, was just 15 when he ended up at Triangle, anorexic, clinically depressed, suicidal and with a bleeding duodenal ulcer. Now, at 17, his eyes are bright and mischievous. He is the class’s elder statesman, the role model, the stunningly good writer whose plays have already been performed to the paying public, and the one who has come to peace. The change has been dramatic. His old school in Mississauga was not a welcoming place. He was hit, beaten and thrown against the lockers regularly. On his 15th birthday, he was punched in the stomach in front of a teacher. The attacker was sent to sit in the corner. Back then, Junior was known as a girl and labelled a lesbian. But at Triangle he has come to see himself as transgendered – a man trapped in a woman’s body. "Now, for the first time in my life, it feels right." Junior often declines to use pronouns to describe himself. Sometimes, he uses the genderless "ze," meaning she or he, and "hir," meaning him, her, his. He’s grateful for the fact that the bathroom at Triangle has no gender label. Now that he’s stopped worrying about gender, he has tons of creative energy. He has written a screenplay that he’s pitching to HBO and Showcase in the United States. Some of his writing has been published. The next step, he says with a dazzling smile, is to move to Los Angeles to go to film school.
Canadian prime minister accused of packing court with pro-gay judges
Toronto – Less than a month before the Canadian Supreme Court will consider the legality of same-sex marriage, opposition parties accuse Prime Minister Paul Martin of loading the high court with gay-rights supporters, the conservative Washington Times reported. New on the nine-member court are two judges from the Ontario Court of Appeal, which made controversial rulings extending spousal rights to same-sex couples, the Times reported.
“The prime minister, I think, chose those individuals to advance his political agenda in that respect,” Vic Toews, a Conservative Party member of Parliament, told the newspaper. “Most analysts have come to that conclusion.” In the last year, three of Canada’s 10 provinces have included gays in marriage laws, according to the Times. The Supreme Court soon will decide whether the expanded definition of marriage should be extended to the entire nation, the newspaper reported.
December 9, 2004
Canada Supreme Court Approves Gay Marriage
Toronto, Ontario (AP) – Canada’s highest court said Thursday the government can redefine marriage to include same-sex couples, but it added that religious officials cannot be forced to perform unions against their beliefs. The ruling by the court in Ottawa brings to the final stages a long, bitter fight over whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry in Canada. Judges in six provinces and one territory have already overturned the traditional definition, allowing thousands of same-sex weddings.
Canada would join Belgium and the Netherlands in allowing gay marriage if the government acts to make it legal nationwide. To pass in the House of Commons, the legislation needs the approval of about 44 of the 95 Liberal backbench members of Parliament to obtain a 155-vote majority. One top Liberal predicted the legislation should pass easily after its introduction, likely early next year. It already has the support of the 38-member Liberal cabinet and virtually all the 54 Bloc Quebecois and 19 New Democrat MPs.
Canada Canada’s military to allow gay weddings on bases
Canada’s armed forces will allow their gay and lesbian members to get married on military bases. The military has drafted a policy calling for its chaplains to formally bless same-sex weddings. "Members of the Canadian forces are also Canadian citizens, and we must also follow the laws of the land, and the laws of the province in which we reside," chaplain Col. Stan Johnstone, who helped draft the policy, told Canada AM Thursday morning.
"Certainly we have our own military regulations but all of them work together in concert and we have a very socially accepting armed forces." The new interim guidelines allow military chaplains to marry gay couples in the Canadian armed forces. A permanent policy will not be in place until the federal government passes a law redefining marriage. Col. Johnstone says the guidelines reflect the primary role of ministering to all armed forces members and their families, adding that they’re "essentially a statement of the way the law is going." Ceremonies will be permitted on military bases across the country, but chaplains will not have to perform the service if it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
They would, however, have to find a colleague to conduct the ceremony. "Each denomination has its own theological and social perspective on that, no chaplain is required to go against the teachings of their church," Col. Johnstone said. The policy is reflective of a changing Canada, he said. "I think our people understand that the country has changed a lot and it will continue to change, and the armed forces will reflect that," Col. Johnstone said. With a report from the Canadian Press
April 23, 2005
Action Alert Update: Once Again, Equality Wins: Juan Camacho is Allowed to Remain in Canada
On May 12, 2005, Mr. Juan Camacho was granted the directive announced in February 2005, by the Canadian Minister of Immigration, Joseph Volpe: “ Spouses and common law partners of Canadian citizens or Landed Immigrants – regardless of their status — will be permitted to remain in Canada pending the outcome of their sponsorship application.” The deportation order issued against him has now been deferred pending the outcome of the inland sponsorship application submitted on his behalf by his husband, Mr. Einar Maartman.
Juan and Einar thank all the individuals and organizations that supported them during these difficult times “Now we have the chance to be and love together in safety,” they said. “And we hope that the application of law has now been clarified as a result of our nightmare and saves others from it”.IGLHRC joins Juan and Einar in thanking those who contributed to this successful campaign and congratulates the Canadian authorities for having, in the end, acted without discrimination in upholding the right of all persons to be equal before the law.
For Background information, please see our Action Alert “Help to Stop Gay Colombian from Deportation from Canada” (April 25, 2005) and its follow-up “More Action is Needed to Stop Deportation of Colombian Gay Man from Canada” (May 6, 2005).
May 28, 2005
‘Amazing Race’ gay wedding sparks rift—former contestants on CBS-TV’s Amazing Race 7, are planning to tie the knot in Ottawa June 1
by Ann Marie McQueen, Ottowa
Ottawa is welcoming him — and his gay wedding — with open arms. But 23-year-old Alex Ali, who on Wednesday will marry his live-in boyfriend of five years, 30-year-old Lynn Warren III, is still searching for that kind of support from his own father.
Though the rest of Ali’s family knew he was gay, though he had lived with Warren for years, they sheltered his Egyptian-born dad from the truth right up until just after Ali and Warren finished filming CBS’ The Amazing Race 7. Ali finally told his father at the last possible minute, over the phone, forced to because he was about to begin a round of post-ejection media interviews. " He responded just the way I knew he would, with shock and blaming himself and blaming me and everybody," he says. "It has caused all the problems in my family that I knew it would."
Consequently, only one of Ali’s older sisters will be at his wedding, with his American-born mother and his other sister staying away to avoid further family rifts. The hard part is heading to a city bent on celebrating his orientation while his father refuses to even acknowledge it. Hard, but as Ali points out, no different than what many gay people go through with their own families every day. And eye-opening, since he has had to learn to accept homophobia from those closest to him, and respect their position nonetheless. " It has also given me a lot of courage because it took a huge weight off my shoulders," he says. "And now that it’s out in the open and really out in the open, like national TV out in the open, I feel like I’m free to live my life the way I want."
The couple agree that if they were to expect parental objections from any corner, it would be from Warren’s Republican Baptist parents. Though they would probably vote against gay marriage, Warren says they came through when he came out to them at 21, and have ever since.
" My dad being in the military for 25 years I was really worried about how he would take it," says Warren. "But the first words he said were, ‘I just want you to know that I will always love you and this doesn’t make any difference.’ " Warren’s parents can’t come to the wedding either, as his father is undergoing chemotherapy for lymphomic cancer and recovering from open heart surgery. They will, however, send a taped message of support.
About 40 friends and family are expected to show up, mingling among about 400 invited guests expected, including politicians, Race contestants including winners Joyce and Uchenna Agu, and a couple of celebrities that are being kept under wraps. Warren and Ali are fervently hoping Rosie O’Donnell, who gave them a cruise after they were booted off Race, is among them. And lest anyone fear the Los Angeles-based pair are getting sick of all the attention, Warren sing-songs his words over the phone from a speaking engagement in Portland, Ore. " Lo-ove it. Love it!" he says. "Are you kidding me, talking about yourself for hours on end."
The couple first met at a bar, which, they confirm, is like winning the gay lottery. Warren says he knew from the beginning they were supposed to spend their lives together, while Ali figured he was too young for that to happen and took a while to warm up to the idea. Nonetheless, they moved in together within days of meeting, fell in love, and started out working in the entertainment business as production assistants.
They worked their way up and were producers at A&E’s controversial show Intervention — where families have dramatic confrontations to stop an out-of-control member’s drug or alcohol addiction — when a Race casting person told them they should apply for the seventh season of the adventure reality series. Fearing Race producers would suspect them of having an unfair advantage, they lied on their applications when listing their jobs as executive assistants. They later confessed, but when Race took them on the "executive assistant" tags remained. They left their jobs at Intervention and have been cruising along post-show on speaking engagements, appearances and their upcoming wedding ever since.
They are also planning to continue working in television. The week after the wedding they are meeting with L.A.-based Evolution Studios to seriously discuss their pitch for a gay travel show. The long-term plan is to adopt a child. But first, a week in the capital, and a marriage. Warren and Ali stress the celebration is about their love and no one’s political agenda. Still, they can’t help but hope the millions of Americans who watched and loved them on Race will pay attention — and get the message. " If they know about our marriage and us going to Canada, I think it will open more minds rather than just trying to shove it down their throat," says Ali. " We’re not trying to force it on you, we’re going to Canada to do it our way. Maybe that will change somebody’s mind."
15 June 2005
Canadian military hosts first gay wedding
Two members of Canada’s military have tied the knot, in the country’s first gay marriage to be recognised by the armed forces.
The two unnamed men were married at an airbase in Nova Scotia last month. Same-sex marriages are currently legal in the majority of Canada’s provinces, with the country’s government keen to offer marriage across the country in the coming months.
The issue is currently being debated in parliament, but has faced stiff opposition from conservative legislators and religious leaders.
The military, however, introduced guidelines to allow lesbian and gay members to marry in 2003, the Canadian Press reports.
The instructions ensure same-sex couples are treated as equally as their heterosexual counterparts and offered the same marriage rights available. CP says the men were a sergeant and a warrant officer and that the marriage was presided over by a United Church minister.
July 20, 2005
Canada 4th Nation to Legalize Gay Marriage
by Rob Gillies, Toronto
Canada legalized gay marriage Wednesday, becoming the world’s fourth nation to grant full legal rights to same-sex couples.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin signed the legislation making it law, hours after it was approved by the Senate late Tuesday night despite strong opposition from Conservatives and religious leaders.
The bill gives homosexual couples the same rights as those in traditional unions between a man and a woman, something already legal in eight of Canada’s 10 provinces and in two of its three territories. The legislation drafted by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s minority Liberal Party government easily passed the Senate, which essentially rubber stamps any bill already passed by the House of Commons, which passed it late last month.
The Netherlands, Belgium and Spain are the only other nations that allow gay marriage nationwide. The law comes after years of court battles and debate that divided families, religious groups and even political allies. The Roman Catholic Church, the predominant Christian denomination in Canada, has vigorously opposed the legislation. But Martin, a Roman Catholic, has said that despite anyone’s personal beliefs, all Canadians should be granted the same rights to marriage.
Alex Munter, national spokesman for Canadians for Equal Marriage, which has led the debate in favor of the law, was triumphant Wednesday: "It is a signal to the world that Canada is an open and inclusive society that believes in the notion of full citizenship for all." Churches have expressed concern that their clergy would be compelled to perform same sex ceremonies. The legislation, however, states that the bill only covers civil unions, not religious ones, and no clergy would be forced to perform same-sex ceremonies unless they choose to do so.
Charles McVety, a spokesman for Defend Marriage Canada and president of Canada Christian College, said he was "very sad that the state has invaded the church, breached separation of church and state and redefined a religious word." McVety vowed his group would work to vote out lawmakers who supported the legislation in the next general elections. " A new Parliament is going to readdress this issue and common sense ultimately will prevail," McVety said. In the United States, Massachusetts is the only state that allows gay marriages; Vermont and Connecticut have approved same-sex civil unions.
Though hundreds of foreigners have come to Canada to seek civil ceremonies since gay marriages were first allowed in Ontario and British Columbia in 2003, not all countries or states recognize the unions. The U.S. government does not recognize same-sex marriage, and most states refuse to acknowledge marriage certificates from gay and lesbian couples, regardless of where they wed.
14 December 2005
Letter from Bi-Transvestite Protesting Rejection by Gay Community in Montreal
(Not corrected for spelling)
Hi my name is Rajan (from Serbia), 30, bisexual. Live in Montreal, Que. I like to crossdress half way (identifying as a male, wearing no bra). I get targeted even within the gay community and law enforcement using prositution laws, false convictions of male prostitute to opress me, saying I dress up to pick up clients. which brings up the issue of decriminalization of prositution needs to take place.
I’ve had about five years to explore my bisexual side and to crossdress on daily basis, using the gay community as resourse. I had to stop crossdressing publically to aviod being targeted by groups of violent bullies, including violent homophobic law enforcers. I realized I was being rejected even by crossdressing groups, transvestites, just because i like to be and look half and half was unacceptable in the transgendered groups. They didnt say it, but I was alienated, avoided! It says trangendered by name but they behave like its only for those who wish to completely be opposite sex and not inbetween.
A lot of the polical gay oragnizations I found very arrogant when I complain of the gay/ tranvestite oppression also which is worse. They get funded well by governemnt and charity but really they do nothing for situations like mine. They focus on gay entreratinment partys but avoid serious gay politics. I am alienated by mainstream society just because of suspicion that I am bisexual.
My natural androgenous appearance is what many use to create queer streotypes. So because of these streotypes i cant find work. I send a few emails to Job lsiting papers letters as idea that they should create a gay employment network as of some lead to help millions like myself. In the gay community they will demand a male be straight looking (masculine looking) and acting. So because I am born effeminate right away the gay community employeers refuse and couldnt care less if I am qualifyed to work amoungst them. They use the same societal queer oppressive streotypes right within gay community :that the girly one is the gay one and the masculine is straight.
Its all to avoid gay suspicion mentality, and a way to alienate and oppress queers. I thought of doing drag shows and the owner and other drags were so jealous that i am passible without all the accesories. For school i want to go to college (cegep called here) to work as a pastor of the eastern orthodox faith! The problem is no gay ordination exists for those of this faith as most juristiactions are very antigay. Most priests are scared to come out, stay closeted in threat of losing there job!
I love Arabic, Egyptain, Serbian Gyspy music and bellydance. I hope to make bellydance performaces in the future and express this talent i have. It very hard because most places refuse, discriminate men in this profession! Most gays within gay community and that work are labeled as straight judged by (masculine)appearance so many couldnt care less about men like myself and the oppression!
I hope someday i will have the freedom to walk with a man hand by hand publically, half crossdress without being conspired against especially within the gay community!