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Marriage in the midnight sun

Yukon court backs same-sex nuptials

With a midnight sun, more than 200 guests, a theme of “elegance” and their two young daughters acting as flower girls, Rob Edge and Stephen Dunbar were married on Jul 17 in Whitehorse, Yukon.



Their wedding followed a legal battle that lasted several months, and left them in limbo almost up to the last minute about whether they would receive a licence in time. On Jul 14 the Supreme Court Of The Yukon Territory came through for them. The Yukon is now Canada’s fourth jurisdiction to permit same-sex marriage, following court decisions in Ontario, British Columbia and Quebec.



Dunbar, 43, says he and Edge, 46, applied for a marriage licence a few months ago but were told that it couldn’t be registered. The couple went to court, arguing that they shouldn’t have to delay their wedding until the Supreme Court Of Canada and Parliament give their stands on same-sex marriage. The couple won the day.



“They [the Yukon Territorial government] said, ‘Stephen and Rob can go ahead and have their wedding, and we’ll take their registration of banns and hold it on file for up to three years,'” Dunbar explains. “They said, ‘We have the power to grant it, we’re not disputing that this is a constitutional challenge, we’re just waiting for the Supreme Court reference.’



“Waiting was not acceptable,” says Dunbar. “The fact that I am also Canadian means I shouldn’t be discriminated against compared to someone in BC, Ontario, and Quebec.”



Jim Tucker, the civil litigation lawyer with Campion Macdonald who represented the couple, says the judge pointed out that the Attorney General Of Canada (AG) changed its position in the Yukon case, compared to the first three – it tried to stop the case from even getting off the ground.



“In the other provinces the Attorney General (AG) did not appeal the decisions of the Courts Of Appeal,” Tucker says. “After losing an application for a suspension order in Ontario, the AG consented to a lifting of the suspension orders in BC and Quebec. Here they were trying to put in a suspension order before the application was heard.”



The judge also awarded the couple full legal costs.



The couple says they’ve received a lot of support. With nearly 20,000 people, Whitehorse is home to two-thirds of the Yukon’s population. Dunbar says there is a surprisingly large gay and lesbian population, one he hopes to work with as he starts a new business encouraging gay and lesbian travellers to visit the territory.



“We’ve had an amazing amount of public support,” says Dunbar. “There hasn’t been one negative letter to the editor, not one negative thing said to us in the street. Whitehorse is an accepting and loving place.”



The couple met on the Internet two and a half years ago, and took a cruise to the Mediterranean for their third date. They had agreed early on that they didn’t want a long-distance relationship, so Edge moved to Whitehorse about a year and a half ago. He proposed on Valentine’s Day in 2003.



Edge is an IT consultant, while Dunbar is wrapping up a career as assistant vice president of a telephone company. He’s also the former president of the Whitehorse Chamber Of Commerce.



Their wedding was a large church affair with over 200 guests invited, including 60 people from out of the territory. For their honeymoon the couple is planning a trip to Las Vegas in September. “We have sixth row centre seats for Celine Dion,” says Dunbar.



“I’m incredibly pleased. I think it’s something that we’ve been saying for a while. It’s time for a change,” says Cicely McWilliam, outreach coordinator for Canadians For Equal Marriage.



McWilliam feels that the new Liberal minority government needs to respond quickly in the wake of the Yukon decision.



“The time to act is now. It’s fine that they’ve put the reference to the Supreme Court, but this is yet another court that is saying that it is unconstitutional to deny marriage rights to same-sex couples.”