Toronto
3 min

Please return your wedding rings

Childless straights shouldn't be married either

PAST EXPIRY DATE? Straight couple Olivia Chow and Jack Layton still seem happy with each other, despite no kids. Credit: JOSHUA MELES

I already knew that the federal government didn’t recognize my Vermont Civil Union as a marriage equivalent. But imagine my surprise a few weeks ago when I learnt that my brief foray into heterosexual marriage, as well as my grandfather’s second marriage (which I considered to be super-romantic) are also invalid in the eyes of the federal government.



As part of its appeal of a court ruling in Ontario that said the ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, the federal Justice Department presented a legal brief last month explaining what argument it would make against homos coupling.



Turns out, that mutual caring, social or economic support and even love, are irrelevant. Marriage is all about kids.



“The purpose of marriage has been the uniting of the two opposite sexes for the purpose of procreation, the raising of children from the marriage and companionship,” writes lawyer Roslyn Levine in a legal brief filed in the Ontario Court Of Appeal.



That means there are a lot of straight couples out there whose marriage certificate should be invalid if all Canadians are to be treated equally.



My grandfather, for example, will surely be shocked to hear that despite the several hours a day he spends caring for his ailing wife in her nursing home, the government doesn’t see them as fulfilling the purposes of marriage. (Though I’m sure they would have had kids if it wasn’t for the fact that they were both in their late 70s when they married in the early 1990s.)



Will there be regular pregnancy checks for newlyweds? A cutoff date of, say, 50 for women? Straight Canadians better watch out. If the federal argument has any success in court, their marriages might only be recognized conditionally.



Toronto City Councillor and federal New Democratic Party leadership candidate Jack Layton has two adult children from his first marriage. But he has none with wife and fellow councillor Olivia Chow. Uh, oh.



“It is a sad reflection of a government completely out of tune with the times,” Layton said of the no-kids, no-marriage argument. “This is a government that doesn’t seem to understand that marriage is about love, not about procreation.”



Layton added that while some religious texts and some religions suggest that procreation is part of the purpose of a marriage, the government has never required this language within vows.



“Many people get married with vows that don’t contain any reference to procreation, including Olivia and I, and we had 1,000 witnesses who bore witness to our union.



“We actually thought that we had the sanction of the state. We had a representative of the state there in my dad [Layton’s father Robert was a Tory cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney’s government]. We even had a handwritten congratulatory note from the prime minister of the day.”



Sorry, Jack. You might have to give back the note.



In provincial politics, Premier Ernie Eves escapes the feds’ declaration by living in sin with partner Isabel Basset. While the couple hasn’t announced marriage plans, Basset is in her 60s, making children extremely unlikely. The feds might want to start quizzing straight marriage candidates whether kids are likely, and directing them towards common-law status if they’re not.



Provincial Finance Minister Janet Ecker has been married to Derek Nelson for well over a decade without producing any mini-Tories. Minister Ecker didn’t return Xtra’s phone calls so we don’t know if she’ll hand in her marriage certificate.



Over on the federal side, there are lots of possibilities for potential embarrassment. Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson, the woman who must sign all bills into law, is in a childless marriage. While Clarkson has children from a previous marriage, she has none with author husband John Ralston Saul. Clarkson and Saul married in 1999, shortly before her appointment was announced.



In an interview, famed guitarist Liona Boyd claims her cat Muffin as her only child, despite a 10-year marriage to real estate investor John Simon. According to a recent article in Reader’s Digest, Boyd turned down an opportunity to have children with former boyfriend Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, whom she dated in the late 1970s. Unless the feds have new legislation in the works: Sorry Liona, cats don’t count.



Pianist Eve Egoyan (sister to filmmaker Atom) and new-media artist husband David Rokeby also stand outside the federal vision of marriage. Their recent collaborative effort, entitled Next Memory City, might be a fine product of their mutual efforts, but it’s an offspring only figuratively.



Actor Mike Myers may have a Mini-Me in his reincarnation as Austin Powers, but he and actress/writer wife Robin Ruzan have yet to produce any mini-Mikes or mini-Robins after nearly 10 years of marriage.



The list of straight Canadians who could come down on the wrong side of some new law is long. Canadian actor Brendan Fraser has been married to actress Afton Smith since 1998 and they still have no children. TV anchor Peter Jennings has been married three times, but only had children with his third wife. Did he really need a divorce for his first two wives, or did their childlessness count as an anullment?



When I married my husband back in 1991 I knew we wouldn’t have any children. Yet after five years together, marriage seemed a natural progression for a loving relationship. The marriage ended amicably when I came out and I always counted it as a valued period of my life.



What will the feds call people who don’t fit their narrow vision of married? Perhaps it’s time to welcome all childless Canadians to the lesbian and gay community.