OZIEWICZ email@example.com_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-06-11 published
Same-sex married couples rejoice
Ruling recognizes union of couples married in 2001; others rush to wed
By Estanislao OZIEWICZ Wednesday, June 11, 2003 - Page A4
Toronto -- For Kevin BOURASSA, 45, and Joe VARNELL, 33, becoming Canada's first same-sex married couple is bittersweet, even as advocates call their union a world first.
"Gee, I wish my mom could have seen this," Mr. VARNELL said. "Because of what the court did in Ontario today no mother will ever again not be able to dance at her son's wedding. That's a wonderful thing."
With his "lawfully wedded husband" at his side, Mr. VARNELL said they planned to celebrate by going home, popping a bottle of champagne and cuddling with their cat.
"If you forgive me, I never want to see any of you in my living room again," he said.
The pioneering couple, who were wed on January 14, 2001, and other same-sex couples seeking to be married in civil ceremonies were speaking at a news conference after a historic Ontario Court of Appeal ruling that they have a constitutional right to marriage.
"Canada gets the gold medal for same-sex marriage around the world," said Trent MORRIS, lawyer for the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto.
"I would like to congratulate them for being the first same-sex couple married not only in Canada but, as Mr. MORRIS indicated, the first same-sex couple in the world," said Cynthia PETERSON, lawyer for Equality for Gays And Lesbians Everywhere, a national advocacy organization for gays and lesbians.
The Netherlands became the first country in the world to legalize marriage for gays and lesbians on April 1, 2001. This year, Belgium became the second country to open marriage to same-sex couples. Unlike its northern neighbour, Belgium did not allow such couples to adopt children.
Mr. VARNELL, an e-commerce consultant, and Mr. BOURASSA, a former bank manager who is now a full-time advocate for marriage equality, were wed at the Metropolitan Community Church before the Dutch law was changed, using an ancient -- and legally valid -- Christian tradition of publication of banns, which amount to a notice of intent to marry. This allowed them to avoid having to get a marriage licence issued by the city.
The hitch, however, has been that whether a marriage in Ontario is preceded by civil licence or by banns, it has to be registered by the province's registrar-general.
Yesterday's court ruling not only ordered the City of Toronto to issue licences to same-sex couples but also told the province to register same-sex marriages. The city complied immediately, and by late yesterday morning had issued licences to several couples, including Ontario Crown attorney Michael LESHNER, 55, who a few hours later married his partner of two decades, Michael STARK, 45, in front of Mr. Justice John HAMILTON of the Ontario Superior Court.
"This is first and foremost a Canadian love story," said Mr. LESHNER, who has been a thorn in the side of the Ontario government for years.
"This is why people come to Canada, because they marvel at our values, and we've sent an unmistakable message that love can conquer all, the love of two good men can defeat everything.... It [homophobia] is dead legally as of today."
The joy and optimism of homosexual groups was tempered by the Ontario government's reluctance to embrace the ruling immediately without reservation.
Attorney-General Norman STERLING told the legislature that he was waiting to hear whether the federal government would appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. Although municipalities and provinces administer marriages, the federal government is responsible for defining marriage.
"We will, of course, follow what the court says in the decision and follow that to the letter of the law," Mr. STERLING said.
Among those celebrating yesterday were Joyce BARNETT and Alison KEMPER, who also picked up their marriage licences at Toronto City Hall and will marry in July, 2004. The women, both of whom are ordained in the Anglican Church, have been together since Their two children were delighted. "I knew that nobody could say I didn't have a family," said Robbie, 11, who was born to Ms. KEMPER. " Canada has finally figured out it's unfair to deny this to anybody."
His sister Hannah, 17, said she has grown up to find that she is heterosexual. She said she is indebted to her parents for bringing her up "where it's okay to be what you want to be."
The court ruling did not sit well with some religious organizations, including the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Evangelical Fellowship of Canada president Bruce CELEMENGER said the court has fundamentally redefined marriage.
"It is not an appropriate use of the Charter to redefine pre-existing social, cultural and religious institutions," he said.
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