Happy anniversary: celebrating 10 years of gay marriage in Canada with Jack Layton and Peter Tabuns

Happy anniversary: celebrating 10 years of gay marriage in Canada with Jack Layton and Peter Tabuns

Clockwise from top left: Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Anne and Elaine Vautour walk down the aisle; Jack Layton and Olivia Chow; the crowd at the MCC; Jack Layton

Last Friday was the 10th anniversary of the first legal gay marriages in the world, and the two married couples responsible for that celebrated by renewing their vows in the same church where they started a decade ago: the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto on Simpson Street. The event, unsurprisingly, had a dash of the explicitly political, but was mostly a publicly personal evening for Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, and Anne and Elaine Vautour.

A bit of background: while the feds only legalized same-sex marriage in 2005, the MCC conducted Canada’s first legal gay and lesbian weddings on January 14, 2001, by using the alternative, very old Christian tradition of publishing banns. The province of Ontario, then run by Mike Harris, fought the certification of the marriages in court, and lost that fight in the Ontario Superior Court; Ottawa lost again on appeal in 2003. (Ottawa eventually decided not to push the fight any further.)  On Friday, the MCC celebrated the 10th anniversary of the first two weddings it performed, which, it argued—correctly, as it turned out—were legal whether the government realized it or not.

The Rev. Brent Hawkes started the evening by reminiscing about how exciting and terrifying the day was 10 years ago. It’s bizarre now to remember that this issue ignited such anger in people that a man of the cloth received death and bomb threats—but he did. Hawkes joked about the controversy and the measures he had to take: “That morning, I met my bodyguards: 12 of the meanest lesbians you’ve ever seen.”

The anniversary did have the feel of an NDP mixer at some points: NDP MPs Jack Layton and Olivia Chow were there to join in renewing their vows; MPP Peter Tabuns was there, as well as his predecessor, Marilyn Churley. Liberals Bob Rae and Martin Cauchon (the man who technically gave up the fight to keep marriage straight) both sent letters congratulating the church. The only appearance of a Conservative, meanwhile, was when Hawkes condemned Stephen Harper from his pulpit for “trying to turn back history” by reintroducing the same-sex marriage law after winning in 2006—a fight Harper lost.

If that sounds a little politicized for a ceremony to renew wedding vows, well, duh. But there’s no way this couldn’t be political; same-sex marriage captivated the attention of every level of government and court in this country, from the Toronto city clerk (who didn’t know whether she was legally forbidden or required to certify same-sex marriages) all the way to the Supreme Court, who told Paul Martin (in so many words) to leave them alone and do his job. The obsessives among us who follow this stuff do so for a reason: because politics actually do matter, even though it doesn’t always look or sound like it.

(Images: John Michael McGrath, except Jack Layton and Oliva Chow, provided by Olivia Chow)