Rev Brent Hawkes says he’s found a loophole in Canada’s marriage laws, and he’s going to start marrying same-sex couples.
“There’s no question that we’re going to be successful eventually and now we have one more way to fight,” says Hawkes.
On Sun, Dec 3, he announced the decision to his congregation at the Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto (MCCT).
Any certified pastor can marry Christian congregants within their parish through reading the “banns of marriage” (a rule brought in many years ago when there was a closer relationship between Christian churches and the state).
“According to the laws in Ontario a couple can go to a local pastor and ask to be married,” says Hawkes. “Three Sundays in a row proceeding their wedding, the pastor announces their intent to marry during services and asks for legal objections.
“If no legitimate legal objections are raised, the pastor can issue a marriage licence right there in the church and then send it to the registrar general, who simply registers it. The couple is already married in the eyes of the law.”
And Hawkes says MCCT will take the registrar general to court if the licence is refused.
MCCT lawyer Douglas Elliott says it’s up to the minister to determine what constitutes a lawful objection. “If someone raises the fact that both parties are the same gender, Rev Hawkes would not deem this a valid impediment.”
The Ontario legislation does stipulate circumstances for a lawful marriage:
–At least one member of the union must be a regularly attending member of the congregation
–The two cannot be too closely related (so a mother cannot marry her daughter)
–Neither party can have been previously married.
Says Elliott: “I think it is a delicious irony to use traditional Christianity, that has so often been a foe of gay and lesbian rights, as a weapon to advance equality.”
Hawkes first read the Banns Of Marriage for two couples on Dec 10 – one lesbian pair, one gay male pair. They have two more Sunday services to go.
But in fact, it’s a bit more complicated. Ontario law regulates the ceremony itself.
Who can actually be married is also regulated by federal law – it’s part of what’s called the “essential validity” of a marriage. And one of the first requirements is that partners must be of the opposite sex.
“A same-sex marriage is considered a ‘significant defect,'” says University Of Toronto law professor Brenda Cossman, that would make the marriage itself “void.”
And that means, according to Cossman, that absolutely anyone in the country – from rightwing lobby groups like REAL Women and Focus On The Family, or even your nosy neighbour – can challenge the marriage and apply for an annulment.
The federal government has already declared that it will challenge the marriages.
Whatever happens, Hawkes calls the experiment a success. “The media attention has been overwhelming…. It has raised the issue in the public attention as a justice issue.”