2 min

Why bother asking?

The PM dithers over equal rights

Credit: Jake Wright

Hey, Prime Minister Paul Martin! You’re really beginning to piss me off with all this dithering on same-sex marriage. First there was talk about passing a law, and then the government went looking for a Supreme Court of Canada reference – and then you talked about more consultation. It looked like same-sex marriage might be an election issue this spring… but wait, look over here! Another reference question for the Supreme Court!

Enough is enough. Stop worrying about elections and start paying attention to civil rights.

I married the same woman twice in the past two years. While both were significant for us, the government only paid attention to one. I’ve been joined in civil union and I’ve been joined in civil marriage. They aren’t the same thing at all, even though originally even I thought they would be close enough.

First we got married in Vermont in 2001. In Vermont, civil unions are considered equal to marriage; lesbians and gay men have civil unions performed by a justice of the peace or a member of the clergy; heterosexual couples have marriages, performed in the same way. All rights and responsibilities are equal, except they have a different name.

But something felt not quite right, despite the recognition and support we received from family, friends and workmates. Officially, we were treated differently. When we came back to Canada, our certificate wasn’t recognized anywhere. When we pushed it, we were told we were common-law.

Yet we were married in our own eyes and were left to create our own little boxes on forms to help validate our relationship in the eyes of public officials. “Joined in civil union,” we wrote on forms, thinking, “Ha, let them figure out that one.” All it got me was a lecture from my doctor who worried about me being too open.

We had to file our taxes jointly, but because we weren’t considered married, there were other concerns. When I had surgery a few months after the civil union, my family could have chosen to cut Tricia out of the decision-making process.

So this June, when the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled that same-sex marriages were legal in the province, we added a marriage certificate to our civil union. Though we felt pretty married beforehand, I’m amazed at the difference a legal document makes.

Though I’ve been with my partner for five years, it took 20 minutes at city hall for it to be treated with any legitimacy. My partner is allowed to make decisions if I’m incapacitated, inherits my wealth (assuming I have any) and has her own little box on all the forms.

As well, while civil unions grant some recognition, marriage is a link to a larger historical past of relationships, to community, to family and to ceremony.

Now, after spending three years deeming our civil union not good enough, the government has decided to ask the Supreme Court whether civil unions can be considered as an equitable alternative to marriage for queers. From my experience, Mr Martin, you’ve already answered your own question: They’re not.