6 min

How does it feel?

The meaning of the marriage vote for the movement

On Jun 28, Members Of Parliament voted 158 to 133 to redefine marriage to include same-sex couples.

Considering that courts across the country had already granted most queer Canadians access to marriage, the nastiness that had surrounded the debate and the ambivalence many queers have about the institution itself, reaction to the historic vote has been muted. Relief more than joy.

Still, it was the biggest affirmation of gay and lesbian people ever offered by our elected politicians, providing the longest, loudest and most intense – if superficial – examination of our place in Canadian society.

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Where does the marriage vote fit into the history of lesbian and gay liberation in Canada?

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Jane Rule
Author, Galiano Island

In the 1950s when I was young, [equal marriage] wouldn’t have occurred to me. I was still expecting to get a five-year prison sentence if anyone had found out. The changes have been extraordinary. I don’t think the most crazy optimist could have imagined the changes in the last
50 years.

I wish we could teach people to live more openly and diversely than we actually do. Society so often tries to deal with its minorities by subsuming them, digesting them, taking them into the mainstream. We see our hetero friends in the prison of marriage (not the bright ones, of course) and instead of opening the cage and saying, “Come on out,” we open the cage and say, “Please let us in with you.”

I am relieved to have it happen because it does move us into the mainstream a little more. It would be churlish of me to say I don’t like it. I’m not against people marrying if they want to, but I just wish they didn’t want to.

Gerald Hannon
Journalist, prostitute and member of the board of directors of Pink Triangle Press, which publishes Xtra, Toronto

Most of the important issues were the ones that happened earlier – more radical decisions like the Charter. Most other things [including marriage] are postscripts. It was unavoidable, I suppose, but not very palatable. It never occurred to me early on in the gay struggle back in the ’70s that this would be something we would ever ask for. I’m of the group that would prefer to see it taken away from everyone rather than extended. It was the right answer to the wrong question. If you frame it in the area of rights – then of course there should be gay marriage. There was an opportunity to look at a more resourceful, imaginative way of framing relationships. I’m not particularly happy with this white picket fence version but some gays and lesbians are.

Shani Mootoo
Author, Edmonton

It is difficult to sustain activism if one does not practice a blind and unwavering faith in a basic and common humanism. I must believe that at the end of the day, goodness and not hate will prevail. Although I knew that it was a matter of time before this legislation was passed, I hadn’t expected the day to come so soon.

We should be careful not to think that this means that Canadians are suddenly enamoured of gay men and lesbians.

I live in a province where the majority of Canadians continue to have little or no use for us. The same-sex marriage issue allowed the open expression of hate and allowed us to see the tenor of disdain for us. This legislation sends perhaps the strongest message so far that the practice of marginalizing us is unacceptable. That to continue to oppose, even if it is only in one’s heart, the rights of gay men and lesbians to live as humans equal to all others, is to live in a minority of small-mindedness, meanness and ignorance.

The bill is an important crowbar, one that opens up to the nation [to address] so many other important issues for lesbians and gay men, those of parenting, adoption, schooling. How does a school board ban gay-positive reading materials now? Only now can the work still required begin.

George Hislop
Activist, Toronto

When I met my lover, in our minds, we were married and all this quibbling didn’t mean anything. When we were asked if we were married, we would say yes. And they would ask who’s the husband and who’s the wife. I would say he’s the husband Monday, Wednesday and Friday and I’m the husband Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. On Sunday, we would clean the house.

I think it’s part of the wonderful heritage we have from the Charter Of Rights And Freedoms, although maybe they didn’t mean it to turn out this way. It’s now yesterday’s news. Your average Canadian thinks, “Okay, fine, they want to get married.” Going all the way back to the bathhouse raids, I learned that the majority of people thought, “I really don’t care what you in your bed as long as you don’t bother us or our kids.”

Alec Butler
Playwright, Toronto

I thought it was on the agenda for the movement from years ago. I think it was kind of inevitable, considering the mainstreaming of the gay lifestyle. But it wasn’t on my agenda.

It’s part and parcel of Canadian acceptance of all. And it brings the homophobes out of the closet in Parliament, which is a good thing.

But as someone who hasn’t followed a traditional couple relationship for the last 20 years, I’m worried that it might be used to divide the good gays from the bad queers. I worry about our own community. I actually identify as trans. And there’s a lot of concern about my own small minority community of polyamor-ous who are feeling even more isolated.

Shyam Selvadurai
Author, Toronto

I came out in the ’80s. Even being included in the Charter Of Rights seemed such a distant dream. It wasn’t like I was holding my breath, not like when we got protection under the human rights code.

I think true freedom is the ability to choose without restriction. This is another step toward the freedoms that straight people take for granted. I think Canadians believe in it because it’s part of our national myth. I think the majority of Canadians might not want to have gays and lesbians in their house or as their friends, but they believe in the idea of equality and justice. I don’t think politicians would have passed this bill without that support.

But will it end homophobia? No. Will you still get the shit beat out of you for holding your partner’s hand at the wrong time? Yes.

Tom Warner
Coalition Of Lesbian And Gay Rights In Ontario, Toronto

I haven’t been all that supportive of the effort to legalize same-sex marriage. I think it rules out other relationships. But I do think this has come a lot faster than I expected and that’s a good thing. It’s certainly a very positive and historic change.

This is certainly not the most significant thing that has happened legislatively for our community. But it is clearly a defeat for the religious right.

I personally am glad that we have this issue out of the way. Now we can address issues like homophobia in education, issues in health and social services. And we can look at fighting for changes to some of the sex laws. I think the marriage issue has dominated for so long, it’s stood in our way on some of these other issues.

Janine Fuller
Manager of Little Sister’s bookstore, Vancouver

A lot of people in our community have worked very hard for a long, long time for this to happen. I think it’s obviously very significant when a country, even when it’s been forced by the courts, acknowledges the right to equality. I think a lot of people think it’s significant to their families.

I certainly think it’s a reflection of the visibility we have gained in the mainstream. But we still exist in the margins, unless we’re lily-white and WASP. I guess the biggest concern for those who believe in difference is the feeling that this is the mainstreaming of our culture.

People have always been having unions. But I think it’s interesting to see how many people aren’t getting married.

Libby Davies
NDP MP, Vancouver

We’ve defeated the forces of darkness, that’s what it felt like. Lightness and equality and doing the right thing came through versus all that nasty and negative stuff coming from the Conservatives.

[On the night of the vote] I felt a tremendous victory and satisfaction and a sense that finally, finally this was done. It was our job in Parliament to get this through, but we couldn’t have done it without the tremendous campaign that went on outside. This was a celebration and a victory for equality and also a victory for working together and overcoming immense political pressure. I was getting e-mails the last few days saying, “I guess it’s not going to happen” and I kept writing back, saying, “Don’t give up.” This was a personal victory and a political victory.

Wayson Choy
Author, Toronto

For my generation – I’m 66 – if I thought about it in the past, I never thought this would happen. And until the last year or so, certainly not as quickly and dramatically as it has.

I think generally Canadians mean well. And we’re moving toward a civilized acceptance of our differences. But in most families, even very liberal ones, when it comes to their own children, this might spark debate.

The fundamentalist Canadian means to be righteous. They’re going to be coming out of the closets with clubs. We’re in danger of being attacked by a united front of religious groups and ethnic backgrounds.

I think it opens up a Pandora’s box of rights for other minorities, like transsexual and transgendered. And it raises the question of how can we sustain these rights?