Last month marked the 41st anniversary of Richard North and Chris Vogel’s marriage, but the government of Manitoba doesn’t see it that way.
Though Canada legalized same-sex marriage in July 2005, recognition of marriages performed prior to that date varies by province.
Vogel and North received their marriage certificate from the Unitarian Church of Winnipeg in 1974. Since gay marriage was illegal at the time, it couldn’t be registered with the province.
The couple has since sent numerous letters to the provincial government asking for their marriage to be retroactively recognized.
“It should have been recognized years ago and it wasn’t, and that rankles,” Vogel says.
In February the couple received a letter from Manitoba’s justice minister, James Allum, suggesting the matter likely falls under federal jurisdiction. Allum says the provincial government is willing to cover the costs of arbitration to resolve which level of government is responsible for this question of retroactive marriage recognition.
“We share in Mr North and Mr Vogel’s frustration. We have been working to find a solution for this important issue,” a spokesman for Manitoba’s Department of Justice told Daily Xtra.
Vogel and North say they aren’t interested in pursuing arbitration. Nor do they want to get married again, now that it’s legal. They say this was never about marriage, but rather about challenging discriminatory rules.
“For us, it was about having the right to marry if you want to,” North says.
“Equality means you have the same choices available to you, not denied them,” Vogel adds. “That denial was meaningful, deliberate.”
A spokeswoman for the federal government says she can’t comment on this specific case but says some provincial governments have recognized some same-sex marriages conducted prior to 2005.
“Court decisions in some provinces and territories held certain marriages of same-sex partners performed prior to that date in that province or territory to be legally valid under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”
North and Vogel say they’re tired of waiting. They plan to file a complaint with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission to force “honesty and accountability on the provincial government for 43 years of discrimination,” North says.
“Why do they feel that they should reaffirm the discrimination that they engaged in the past, rather than acknowledge that they should have registered the marriage, and register it now?” he asks.