A loud yell goes up from the crowd celebrating the passage of Bill C-38 through the House Of Commons at Ottawa’s tony Clair De Lune restaurant a few blocks from Parliament Hill.
It is 10:09pm on Jun 28 and Alex Munter, national coordinator of Canadians For Equal Marriage, is joining the party after watching the bill pass by a 158 to 133 vote and representing Canadian queers to a bank of television cameras and microphones.
“Good job,” someone yells. Others just yell. And some clap loudly.
It is a hero’s welcome for the youthful former city councillor who became the national TV face of the gay community’s polite but firm insistence on the right to same-sex civic marriage.
Munter walks slowly through the crowd, shaking hands, dishing out hugs, always grinning.
Behind him, politicians are filing in. Almost a dozen Liberal MPs and cabinet ministers are here to celebrate the passage of Bill C-38 with the gay community. There’s a few Bloc Quebecois MPs, including out gay MP Real Menard. And one or two NDPers – the rest are at their own party in the Centre Block of Parliament.
Toronto Liberal MP Carolyn Bennett is introducing partiers to a half-dozen men, mostly Liberal backbenchers from ridings where same-sex marriage isn’t as popular as it is in her city.
“These are the brave guys,” she says. “I’m so proud of them.” They grin, looking out of place in a bar surrounded overwhelmingly by gays and lesbians and a couple of trans.
“I’ve been fighting for this for as long as I can remember,” says Bennett. “I voted against the motion in 1999,” the one defining marriage as between a man and a woman trumpeted by former Liberal Justice Minister Anne McLellan, an Edmonton MP.
Bennett says she’s blown away by society’s evolution on gay issues “and how fast it’s come. Look at Andy Scott, my colleague from North Bay. In 1999 he voted [for the narrow definition of marriage] for his mother, and this time he voted for his kids.”
Bennett thinks Canadians have profoundly changed in the 20 years of the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. She refers to the progressive views of the “post-Charter kids.”
Standing on top of a small rise of stairs, Munter is calling for people’s attention. The noise starts to diminish.
“I feel like Evita or something,” he giggles. The crowd laughs.
Noting this is an “exceptionally proud moment for Canadians everywhere,” he launches into thanking the politicians in the room. One by one. The audience claps for each, but they save the loudest applause to Belinda Stronach, the former Conservative whose trip across the floor to the Liberals propped up the government and prevented an election that would have killed Bill C-38.
The crowd also claps loudly for Defence Minister Bill Graham and Menard. Graham cups his hands in front of his mouth and yells back, “You can all get married on an army base now!”
Stronach later gives Capital Xtra readers a moment. Did she notice she got the crowd’s loudest and most emotional applause?
“I think there were a lot of people who put their heart and soul and effort into making this happen,” she says. “I’m happy to have been a part of it.” And, she adds, she’d be “honoured” to attend same-sex marriages this summer if she’s invited.
Munter pays special tribute to Laurie Arron, CEM’s political coordinator, who put his Toronto life on hold to move to Ottawa and lobby for Bill C-38.
Arron’s “heartfelt commitment” was instrumental in the bill’s success, Munter says.
Some in the crowd are just happy to have the Parliamentary debate – and the four-year struggle through the courts and political offices – behind them.
The sudden end, which almost caught even CEM off-guard, “was anti-climatic,” says trans activist Jessica Freedman, who had attended many events and demonstrations in support of the cause. “I feel a sort of relief. A relief that it’s done and gone to the Senate.”
Chris Khng tried to get into Parliament’s visitor’s gallery to watch the final debate, but it was already packed. He rushed home to watch it on CPAC channel.
“I was still pretty nervous,” says Khng, one of the first people to sign up to volunteer for CEM. “Even though I knew it would pass, I worried that the opposition would pull something out of their hat.”
People should pause and think about the importance of the day, says Hedy Fry, the Vancouver Centre Liberal MP. “Everyone thinks this is an anti-climax, but I think this is a historical moment. We’re finally having equality under the law in every sense.”
Fry predicts the bill will have a smoother ride through the Liberal-dominated Senate.
“The senators are more progressive than many in the House,” she says.
In his remarks to the media after C-38 passed, Munter called on the Senate to give speedy passage. “After all, the Commons have already voted five times to affirm equal marriage. After two-and-a-half years of debate, Canadians want Parliament to finally decide.”
And Munter praises politicians for passing the bill just days before Canada Day, “affirming once again our world-wide reputation as a country that is open, inclusive and welcoming.
“Our Parliamentarians have said that the Canadian thing to do is to protect religious freedom, to ensure that religious marriage is the exclusive purview of faith communities without infringement by the state. Our parliamentarians have also said that the Canadian thing to do is to end discrimination and to extend full citizenship to lesbian and gay people.”