Last month I attended my first federally recognized same-sex marriage. In Canada. Our two friends, Steve Berridge (Canadian) and Trevor Lavelle (US Citizen) got married on the outskirts of Montreal in front of friends and families who made the journey from all corners of the U.S. and Canada.
On July 20, 2005, Canada became the first country, outside of Europe, to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide with the enactment of the Civil Marriage Act which provided a gender-neutral marriage definition. Court decisions, starting in 2003, had already legalized same-sex marriage in eight out of ten provinces and one of three territories, whose residents comprised about 90% of Canada's population. Before passage of the Act, more than 3,000 same-sex couples had already married in those areas. Most legal benefits commonly associated with marriage had been extended to cohabiting same-sex couples since 1999.
The Civil Marriage Act was introduced by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government in the Canadian House of Commons on February 1, 2005 as Bill C-38. It was passed by the House of Commons on June 28, 2005, by the Senate on July 19, 2005, and it received Royal Assent the following day. On December 7, 2006, the House of Commons effectively reaffirmed the legislation by a vote of 175 to 123, defeating a motion of the Conservative minority government to examine the matter again. This was the third vote supporting same-sex marriage taken by three Parliaments under three Prime Ministers in three different years.
In the US, talk of same-sex marriage still sends Republicans, the Crazy Christers and the right wing media into bizarre three ring circuses, peppered with predictions of Armageddon, the exact date and place of the incoming Rapture complete with assorted Fox News reporters having apoplectic attacks. Glenn Beck, Anne Coulter and Rush are constantly on the verge of nervous breakdowns or multiple strokes. If only. Meanwhile north of the border the rumored lesbianism of Lauren Harper, Canada’s First Lady, hardly raises a well groomed eyebrow. Something that in the US would be rehashed daily “a-la- Benghazi”.
Furthermore, the sky over Canada is still blue on any given day and it was shimmering and sparkling when our friends Trevor and Steve tied the knot. The wedding was officiated with flair, charm and humor, by their friend Me. Sylvie Bouegeois, attorney at law.
In Québec anyone can officiate at a wedding. All you have to do is fill out a form and send it in to the government. You get a confirmation that you are authorized to marry two specific people at a specific place, at a specific time on a specific date. No changes allowed. I know of a same-sex wedding where the father of one of the grooms did it.
As they exchanged their “ I DO” I scanned the room, I expected to see the straight married couples frantically dialing the Mounted Police to come defend and save their marriages. But nothing happened. Fire and brimstone did not rain on us either and then I realized I was in a civilized country. A country that gives everybody an equal chance to have their well earned miserable married life. By marrying a Canadian citizen Trevor will eventually be entitled to all the benefits that are extended to any married couple in Maple Leaf country.
When we landed in Montreal we were given the customary immigration control card but this was different from any other I ever filled out. It allows for two people who reside at the same address to complete it as a couple regardless of gender, family name or marital status. The custom officer looked at the two of us, stamped our passports and greeted us with a cheerful: “ Bienvenu a Montreal” . I turned to my partner and said:” this is what the world should be like”. Canada is one of the freest countries in the world, it has managed to create harmony and cooperation among ethnic groups, there is a strong desire to unite, not to bicker and divide; sharing in cooperation, not in separation or in conflict; not forgetting the past but welcoming the future and changes associated with it without fear. We instead continue to elect, and parade on every talk show , politicians who are stubbornly negative, regressive, seeking to block, delay, stall and filibuster, with shrill rhetoric, measures that with time eventually become, no matter what, law of the land. Politicians stuck in a time warp, who blindly toe the party line, like the Politburo of old, the people and the country be damned. Neanderthal political “dysfunctionality” is becoming the symbol of our nation slowly replacing the Statue of Liberty and what it stands for.
How can two nations who have shared a symbiotic relationship for hundreds of years, a 5,525 miles border, with almost the same ethnic founding fathers and deep cultural similarities become so different? After all we look alike and speak (mostly) the same language. I guess the best way to describe the dichotomy in a nutshell is that a Canadian is an American without guns, with health care, well adjusted and with same-sex marriage on top of that. Our northern neighbors have much to teach, and if we are willing to listen, they may teach us, because as a nation, we still have much to learn.