3 min

Crashing the party

Activist ignores threats & applies for marriage

EATING IT, TOO. Mike Stark (left) and Michael Leshner want the cake. Credit: Mark Bognanovic

Crown attorney Michael Leshner applied for a gay marriage licence – even though he was told to stop being a loud-mouthed activist by his boss.

“The one time I was disciplined, I sued and the letter of reprimand was removed from my file,” says Leshner.

“I’m anticipating zero interest from my employer. I’m sure my employer is familiar with Supreme Court decisions on gay rights. I’ve never been successfully disciplined.”

Leshner’s superiors accused him in 1995 of mixing his activism with his professional standing, particularly over articles he wrote for the Toronto Star, which identified him as a Crown attorney.

Leshner says he is pursuing this case as a private citizen, but he admits that there is an advantage to having him as the central figure.

“It’s of tremendous symbolic value if the litigant is a senior Crown

attorney. But I’m not doing this case as Michael Leshner, Crown attorney, I’m doing this as Michael Leshner, human being. How could anyone think I’m doing this as part of my profession?”

For Leshner, laws that prevent gay men and lesbians from marrying

are like vampires.

“We should put a stake through the marriage legislation as we would put a stake through Dracula. It’s not, per se, advocating marriage in the least. It’s advocating choice. When gays and lesbians are denied the same rights as a 16-year-old straight boy or girl, it’s

horrific. To me, legal discrimination is no different from a virus.”

Leshner went to Toronto City Hall last month with his partner of 19 years to ask for a marriage licence. He expected to be turned down, and had already agreed to be part of a lawsuit challenging federal and provincial marriage legislation.

Instead, the city filed its own suit in Ontario Superior Court, asking whether it should issue the licence. A few days later, British Columbia’s attorney-general announced he is in favour of gay marriage, after two women in Victoria also applied for a licence.

Leshner’s lawyer, Martha McCarthy – who successfully forced the Ontario government to include same-sex couples in legislation – will, according to Leshner, “be joined to the city to protect my interests.”

But Leshner says that while the city was prodded, Toronto came down on the right side.

“Their statement was that they are seeking only direction from the court on whether they should issue the licence, not taking a stand on it, but it’s sending a subliminal message that a municipal level of government is convinced that there’s an important human rights issue here.”

Leshner says that even if the court rules in his favour, legalizing

same-sex marriage, he doesn’t expect the case to end there.

“Unless the opposition – the government and the religions – drop their opposition, we fully expect it to go to the Supreme Court [Of Canada]. It’ll probably take a couple of years, so don’t buy a tux yet.”


A lesbian lawyer says she’ll use the traditional definition of marriage included in the federal same-sex spousal rights bill to launch a court challenge.

“[Gays and lesbians in relationships] should be treated the same as other spouses. If this includes an institution that is obsolete and needs to be renewed once in a while, well [let’s do it],” said Claudine Ouellet to a Senate standing committee last month.

“We have to avoid the separate-but-equal trap. We must have the same choices or it’s still discrimination based on sexual orientation and we’ll see you in the courts once more,” Ouellet continued. She heads the Coalition gaie et lesbienne du Quebec.

Bill C-23 – An Act To Modernize The Statutes Of Canada In Relation To Benefits And Obligations – passed second reading in the Senate May 9. The heterosexual definition of marriage was added to Bill C-23 in committee at the request of Justice Minister Anne McLellan.

The Foundation For Equal Families joined in with its own threat. “This will be litigated,” Toronto lawyer David Corbett said. Representatives for EGALE, Equality For Gays And Lesbians Everywhere, called on senators to remove the definition of marriage from the bill.

-Darry Marengere, Capital Xtra