3 min

Equal, equal, equal, equal

How do you tell the marriage groups apart?

Credit: Paul Baik

Oh, the difference a hyphen makes.

Canada has several groups lobbying for the federal government to pass legislation making same-sex marriage legal across the country. And you have to be pretty sharp to tell them apart.

The highest profile group is called Canadians For Equal Marriage (CEM). Another is called Equal Marriage For Same-Sex Couples (EMSS). The website of CEM is The website for EMSS is

“I think the same-sex marriage movement is united,” say Laurie Arron, who, as the director of advocacy for the national lobby group Egale Canada, is leading CEM. Egale set up the organization on a short-term basis to build broad public and political support for same-sex marriage heading into a vote in Parliament on the issue.

“I mean, it’s not a political organization so we don’t have to have one leader to win. Having many different people working at the same time is a good way to go. We are not looking to have any sort of command and control structure.”

EMSS, on the other hand, is the brainchild of two individuals, Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa. Known as one of the first gay couples to be married in Canada because of their wedding in 2001, they had set up web domains for and prior to the court decisions this summer that turned the issue into a hot one.

Originally their efforts were directed toward supporting same-sex couples with their court cases and promoting their 2001 book Just Married.

But more recently Varnell and Bourassa have branched out. They were involved in promoting the equal marriage rally at the Liberal leadership convention last month and have teamed up with Parents, Family And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) groups to produce a series of public service announcements for television, radio and print (turn page 22 for more on the PSAs).

“I don’t know if we have a defined mission statement,” says Bruce Walker, a lawyer with EMSS. “We’re just a group of like-minded individuals…. This is not a collective group like the…. What are they called, the ones across the street?” Walker’s law office is on Church St; CEM is working out of the Pink Triangle Press office, also on Church.

“Basically it’s Kevin and Joe. I don’t know about directing, but we all work together,” says Walker. “There’s an informal group of us and we all sort of contribute. I don’t think we’ve got a particular plan at the moment.”

CEM has a focus on getting gay and lesbian people and their supporters to sign petitions, contact Members Of Parliament and otherwise lobby.

“Our website is very action-oriented,” says Arron. “We are focussing on putting together a national network of local chapters. And we’re focussing on putting in place a grassroots campaign to lobby MPs in their ridings.”

They’re also looking for celebrity endorsements that will woo Canadians.

“It’s coming along slowly,” says Arron. “You don’t just call up Wayne Gretzky and say, ‘Hi, wanna do this.’ Basically the idea is to get people who aren’t the usual suspects that Canadians can look to and say, ‘Wow, if they’re supporting it, maybe I’ll have to rethink my opposition.'”

CEM asks for donations on its website, to cover the staff, administration and printing costs of running the campaign.

EMSS also asks for money for two different funds. One is directed toward the legal costs of the individuals and groups who have taken the issue to court. The other is for advocacy, “to pay for fees, expenses, equipment and materials associated with participating in advocacy activities, including the pride parades, rallies, protests.”

To add to the confusion, another equal marriage group, called Equality Now (not to be confused with the international women’s group of the same name), sprang up during last month’s Liberal leadership convention in Toronto.

“It’s made up of different campus student groups, unions and interested individuals who were concerned about same-sex marriage legislation,” says spokes-person Carolyn Egan. “We wanted to come together to keep whatever pressure up we could on the Liberal government to maintain the pledge that [Prime Minister Jean] Chrétien had made to enact legislation.”

Aren’t these equal marriage types worried about confusing the public and mixing their messages?

“Well I think it’s always a concern in the sense that there is a lot of information out there,” says Arron. “And we want to try and make things as clear as possible. It’s not always possible to make things clear.”

Egan doesn’t see any contradictions.

“I think we are all coming from a space where we want to work together and we all want the same-sex legislation passed and we’re just working the best we can to make that happen. So I haven’t heard anyone mention any problems.”

Whether the groups are actually coordinating their efforts depends on who you ask. Walker says the CEM and EMSS haven’t done much talking.

“Not officially, I don’t think,” says Walker. “They’ve just gotten started. Our group’s been at it for a while, but we’re not objecting to their participation. In fact we welcome it. Having said that, we all know each other.”

Says Egan: “I think that we are all working very cooperatively together. Our focus has been the rallies and the demonstrations and we’ve included Bob [Gallagher of CEM] and Kevin [Bourassa of EMSS] in all our activities.”