Married ...but still courting
Canada's same-sex couples have 2 hurdles to clear, the Supreme Court and Parliament
By KATHLEEN HARRIS, Parliamentary Bureau

Sun, October 3, 2004

There was no bride at this shotgun wedding -- just two nervous grooms and a tiny cluster of friends and family. With more than the usual pre-nuptial jitters, Ottawa couple Gianluca Ragazzini and Daniel Miller made history in June 2003 as one of the first same-sex couples in Canada to legally tie the knot.

Racing against a week-long time window between an Ontario Superior Court decision declaring the ban on gay marriage unconstitutional and a potential federal appeal, the couple of six years rushed to exchange vows.

"It was something we had talked about for a long time, but were never sure we would be able to actually do it," Ragazzini says.

"All of a sudden we were able to, and we were very happy. We felt like we were at the same level as other couples."

This week, the Supreme Court of Canada begins landmark hearings to extend marriage rights to gays across the country.

The reference on draft same-sex marriage legislation -- a highly contentious proposal that pits gay activists against devout Christians -- has attracted an unprecedented 27 groups and governments to have their say.


While the federal government expects a swift decision from the court, it plans to delay introducing a same-sex marriage bill.

A leaked cabinet document indicates the federal Liberals plan to hold off introducing the bill until fall 2005. The document gives no reason for delaying same-sex marriage legislation.

"Some people have this apocalyptic vision of what will happen to society if this goes through," says Ragazzini, a 41-year-old software engineer.

"Some don't like giving gays and lesbians certain rights, but in many cases, it's just about people being uncomfortable with change."

Many Christian leaders worry religious rights won't be protected. But Derek Rogusky, VP of family policy for Focus on the Family, says children's welfare is also at stake.

Research shows kids thrive when they're living with their married biological mother and father, Rogusky says.

"For the first time we are going to have the state enforce -- and in fact encourage -- this notion that gender doesn't matter in parenting," he says. "And that flies in the face of the research."

While thousands of gay couples have already got hitched, Rogusky suggests existing unions could be nullified or recognized in some way other than as marriages.

Admitting it's an "uphill battle" for his side of the debate -- six provincial supreme courts have already tossed out the traditional definition of marriage -- Rogusky maintains elected representatives, not courts, should be grappling with the monumental issue.

Conservative House leader John Reynolds says the Liberal government was "copping out" on a controversial issue by sending it to the high court, buying time to keep it away from the election campaign earlier this year.

"They ran for cover and sent it off to the Supreme Court," Reynolds says. "Why not bring it straight to Parliament for a full debate?"

While Reynolds favours preserving the current definition of marriage as between a man and a woman, he says Tory MPs will be able to vote as they wish on the issue.

Prime Minister Paul Martin, a devout Catholic who has confessed he personally wrestles with the issue, has also vowed to allow Grit MPs to vote with their conscience when the issue reaches the House.


But with many MPs "wavering" on the same-sex marriage issue, Gilles Marchildon, executive director of gay rights advocate Egale Canada, says guidance from the Supreme Court is key.

Courts in Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, the Yukon, Manitoba and Nova Scotia -- representing 82% of Canada's population -- have ruled that denying gays the right to marry is illegal. The opinion from Canada's top court will lay to rest any lingering questions about legal interpretation.

But nothing compels Parliament to adopt the Supreme Court's interpretation of marriage.

That troubling spectre will keep gay activists lobbying politicians to ensure rights aren't taken away, Marchildon says.

"It would be chaos. How can you unmarry thousands of couples across the country?

"And not all of them are Canadian, so what do you do -- go overseas and to the U.S. and try to claw back the certificates?"

A native American who grew up in tough Texas, David Kloss says he has personally evolved in his 55 years, from feeling marginalized and fearful to empowered.

Now happily married and living with husband Remi Collette in Toronto, he's confident the Supreme Court -- and ultimately Parliament -- will give gays the right to wed.

"That Canada, which has been so proud of its heritage of inclusion, would all of a sudden back up and become more related to the policies of the U.S. -- I just don't see Canadians doing that," he says.

"Do you want to be on the side of Martin Luther King or the side of Jerry Falwell?"