The End Of Second Class (12:15pm, Sat, May 20, ROM) is the most recent documentary on queer rights by local filmmaker and York University professor Nancy Nicol, this time offering up a detailed history of the fight for same-sex marriage in Canada.
Nicol follows the key players and traces the landmark events in the drawn-out and complicated (nay, chaotic) social, legal and political struggle from when the novel idea was first put forward by Laval University professor Anne Robinson in the early 1990s to the ratification of Bill C-38 by the Senate in 2005. The pioneering couples, lawyers, academics, activists and MPs are all here, and are uniformly excellent interview subjects, never uttering an unnecessary word. There is also a ton of great protest and news footage from both sides and a whack of fascinating scenes of parliamentary debates.
If you believe — as I did — that you were already intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the issue, you will be surprised by the dramatic highs and ridiculous lows that this relatively modest demand for equality inspired, not to mention the shaggy-dog story of how this issue evolved over 10 years from being regarded as a big joke in the gay community to becoming central to mainstream gay activism. Some of the most stirring scenes include Metropolitan Community Church Of Toronto Rev Brent Hawkes wearing a bulletproof vest to the service where he married two queer couples despite the objections of two congregants, or Michael Hendricks and René Leboeuf having their doctored marriage licence refused by a civil servant in the 1998 only to have the same woman happily and tearfully rubber-stamp it in 2004.
There are comic episodes from the grotesque fire and brimstone of the Defend Marriage rally right here in Toronto. You get to see the jowly Bishop Pearce Lacy spitefully conclude that same-sex couples “just ain’t got it” because we lack the “physical complementarity” that has apparently been the foundation of marriage since the dawn of time. There’s also an interview with Bishop Fred Henry threatening the federal Liberals with eternal damnation.
I tittered when equal marriage protestors prioritize the community’s diverse opinions by rhythmically chanting, “We’re here! We’re queer! And some of us want to get married!” An earnest, impassioned celebration by activist Kevin Bourassa of the major English dictionaries changing their definitions of “marriage” to include same-sex couples is unintentionally amusing as well (who knew that linguistics was such a major front of this war?).
It is Nicol’s breadth of material and her subjects’ depth of insight that makes this documentary such compelling viewing. Be warned, however, you’ll leave the theatre humming David MacDonald’s distressingly homophobic Christian anthem “One Man, One Woman” despite yourself.