Justice Harvey Brownstone, voted best behind-the-scenes champion in the Xtra Best 2008 awards, was the first openly gay judge in Canada when he was appointed to the bench in 1995.
“I wanted to be a judge because I felt very strongly that I could make a contribution to the obtaining of justice for all people,” says Brownstone. “I made a decision to be openly gay in my application, at my interview and at my swearing in, to let young gay people know that they could aspire to reach their goals without being in the closet. I hoped it might send a message of hope to them.”
Brownstone has officiated at more than 1,000 same-sex marriages since the province amended its marriage laws and legalized same-sex marriages in 2003.
“I’ve done more same-sex weddings than anyone else,” he says proudly. “I’m the only judge in Ontario who’s made himself publicly available to do same-sex weddings. To many, Americans in particular, I am probably the face of same-sex marriage because I’m the one they have dealt with.”
Brownstone says many appreciate his services because they don’t want their ceremonies officiated by a member of the clergy, “especially since it was the courts that gave us that right, who said it was unconstitutional not to be allowed to be married,” he says. “It wasn’t the churches or the government that did that. There are a lot of people, particularly community-minded activists, who want to be married by a judge to show their respect to the court and to thank them for having made these rulings.”
Brownstone says conducting same-sex marriage ceremonies balances what he sees on a day-to-day basis as a family court judge.
“With the exception of adoptions, which are very nice experiences, I spend all of my time with couples who have broken up, who are depressed, are very unhappy with each other and are in terrible misery,” he says. “So for a chance to see a couple who loves each other, who wants to be together, wants to make a commitment for the rest of their lives is very uplifting and refreshing. It’s a great honour and privilege and it gives me a wonderful chance to celebrate something very special with people. It’s the greatest thing.”