Metropolitan Community Church pastor Brent Hawkes paused when he held up the bulletproof vest he wore the day he performed the world’s first same-sex marriage.
“We didn’t know what would happen,” he said. “There were police officers outside searching people as they came in the building. It was a frightening time. The night before, I called my family and told them, ‘If anything happens to me, I love you.’”
That was Jan 14, 2001. Ten years later, both couples, Anne and Elaine Vautour and Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa, returned to renew their vows and celebrate their anniversary.
NDP Leader Jack Layton and MP Olivia Chow also renewed their vows.
The church was packed for the anniversary. Hawkes, looking elated and jubilant, took everyone back to that day, describing the death threats, protests and years of court challenges that led to July 20, 2005, when Canada became the fourth country in the world and the first country in the Americas to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
Church lawyer Doug Elliott, who also renewed his vows with his partner, spoke about the long Supreme Court battles that began when a legal loophole was discovered. For three Sundays in a row, Hawkes used an ancient marriage procedure called “reading the banns,” which negates the need for a marriage licence.
According to the latest census, there are 7,500 married same-sex couples in Canada and the numbers continue to grow.