5 min

Wedding bells

Same-sex marriages, traditions and ceremonies are still largely undefined

Credit: Karen Rodgers

As it may have been when women were proclaimed people by their government, there is a buzz in the air as the implications of last month’s Ontario Court of Appeal ruling allowing same-sex marriages begins to filter through many people’s minds.

The ramifications are profound according to Rev Brent Hawkes, who married Ernest Lacasse and Richard Reed at the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Toronto on Pride weekend.

“Most heterosexual couples when they get married invite family, friends, co-workers. Gay and lesbian couples will start doing that too – it will be like a second wave of coming out. Some family members may have ignored (the homosexuality), but now they’re going to be invited to the wedding. Most family members will just say yes, it’s that simple. Others are going to have to examine how they feel, and it will be a next step of acceptance. Some will say no and that will be painful.

“For churches, every minister is going to have to make a decision because over time gay and lesbian couples are going to come to them asking to get married. Every local church will have to decide. I think that dialogue is going to be so helpful over time.”

What our marriages, traditions and ceremonies will be are still largely undefined. Our “summer of love” is fuelled in part by pragmatism about the fragility of any newly-won right. “We wanted to do it now, to have that legal sanction because it will be hard to take that away from us,” says Claudette Blanchard, who married long-time partner Gail Toups in a ceremony at the Inn on Somerset the same Saturday as Lacasse and Reed.

Newlyweds Dan Miller and Gianluca Ragazzini were married on Jun 14. “We always talked about getting married when it was legal, and then suddenly it was. We decided to go ahead before an appeal was launched, for ourselves and for the community,” says Miller.

“We decided on Thursday, got the license and shopped for rings on Friday, and were married on Saturday,” says Ragazzini with a smile.

One tradition that may or may not survive the long haul is Pride weddings. Because of the timing of the court decision, many couples in Ontario will be celebrating their wedding anniversaries in the midst of Pride celebrations. In the two weeks between the decision and Toronto Pride, 249 couples applied for a marriage license in Toronto alone. Many were from other countries and other parts of Canada, but a significant number of couples from Ottawa, Toronto and the region were married in June. A new addition to many Pride parades is sure to be the popular “just married” contingent.

I arrived at the MCC and wandered into the church only to find a wedding in progress, and reaching that moment of intensity which all ceremonies aspire to. There are two women holding hands, gazing intently at each other and murmuring in response to the minister. They are each flanked by their mothers. It is a quiet and emotional moment, and I realize that this must be the couple that had asked for a closed ceremony, so I leave quietly.

Later, I meet Rev Hawkes who is gulping water like an orator just down from the pulpit. “I’ve done six weddings in the past two days,” he tells me. In the 15 minutes between weddings, he speaks passionately about his work with the Church, and the political successes as well as the spiritual ones that MCC has enjoyed.

“We used to have two separate ceremonies, one for heterosexual couples and one for same-sex unions, but years ago we blended them. Took the best parts of both. Now all kinds of different couples come to us asking for the blended ceremony – heterosexual couples too. Many people have told me it’s one of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies they’ve been to,” says Hawkes.

During our conversation, the church had been transformed from the quiet reverence of the last ceremony into what looks very much like a press conference. There are six video cameras, boom mikes and a bevy of decidedly hungry-looking reporters. Lacasse and Reed were on the national news last night, and theirs is billed as a leather wedding.

The couple looks happy, unconventionally so, and they are gracious about the whir and clicking of the cameras, the movements of the crews and reporters. I hear every fourth word that is said. The ceremony is brief, and as they lead up to the pronouncement and the kiss, several more friends of the grooms trickle in. There are about seven guests, two witnesses and more than 20 press present. Every friend of the groom is dressed in leather, and their attire and manner seem appropriate here.

After the ceremony the grooms take questions and pose for pictures.

I was the only one present who was surprised by the overwhelming press presence. “It was really important to this couple to make a public statement with their marriage. They invited the press to be witnesses,” says Rev Burke. As unromantic as this wedding sounds, it manifested the key tradition emerging in same-sex marriages – the political.

Lacasse and Reed wrote their vows to reflect their commitment to activism. “I take you to be my spouse; to laugh with you in joy; to grieve with you in sorrow; to grow with you in love; serving humanity in peace and hope throughout our lives together.” Hawkes spoke briefly about all of those who had worked to make this, and all same-sex marriages, possible.

References to activism and political milestones are a component of many same-sex marriage ceremonies. Far from being a strident history lecture, these references are a homage, a statement of gratitude to all of those who have been brave enough to work for our recognition in society as citizens deserving equal rights and due respect. Blanchard and Toups’ wedding ceremony also included a call to action, a reminder that there is more work to be done. “Let this marriage be an affirmation of what has been achieved so far at home, so that we may all be even stronger in our determination to seek justice and equality for all people, worldwide.”

It is no wonder then that almost every minister, bride, groom or wedding guest I speak to characterizes same-sex marriages as some of the most moving ceremonies they have been a part of. Many of the couples who have taken the plunge in hopes of solidifying our right to wed have been committed long-term couples who have longed for this simple right for years. There may be a rush to the altar, but it is not an ill-considered one. It is the culmination of years of work and collective longing.

And although many oppose same-sex marriage, including Focus on the Family and Real Women Canada who are attempting to launch a Supreme Court appeal of the ruling, there is no shortage of happy supporters.

In fact, as the implications of legal same-sex marriage continue to filter through, many believe that gay and lesbian weddings have the potential to revitalize the institution and the wedding industry. “I think, rather than attacking the institution of marriage, that we’re bringing respect to it because we’re choosing it freely. There’s this wonderful sense of affirmation, it’s going to strengthen the family unit,” concludes Hawkes.