In the many high profile struggles around “legalising” same sex marriage, we too often forget that legalization is not what is required: with just a very few possible exceptions, marriage is already legal for all couples, everywhere – and the exceptions I am thinking of are the handful of countries where all homosexual acts are prohibited. (Even in these, it is possible that marriage itself is not explicitly prohibited. I don’t know.)
All that is needed to conduct a fully legal wedding is a consenting couple, a willing celebrant, and a congregation (or at least some witnesses) to share the day. Any such wedding will be fully legal – but may lack legal recognition. The struggle is not over achieving “legal” marriage, but about equal recognition for all legal marriages – and securing the co-operation of the churches, in supplying willing celebrants.
I was reminded of this by two unrelated items this week: on Sunday evening after Mass, the some of us from Soho Masses congregation watched the excellent documentary “Queer and Catholic” which was made for Channel 4 TV nearly 10 years ago. I will have more on this later (after a chance to see it again), but the bit relevant for now comes near the end, which features the wedding of a gay Catholic couple, Joe Murray and his partner Eric. This was in every sense a genuine, legal and sacramental wedding. However, it lacked legal recognition, and without the co-operation of the Catholic Church they had to have their wedding in an MCC church.
The second reminder came in a report of an important anniversary, in Canada. This describes the tenth wedding anniversary of what is described as the world’s first gay wedding. It wasn’t, for the reasons outlined above – but it was indeed the first wedding of two men to achieve, retrospectively, formal and full legal recognition.
Please join me in saying, to and to all the other same sex couples whose marriages are now achieving equal recognition by the law: “Happy Anniversary”!
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 andElaine 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.”
(Read more at Toronto Life)
- Gay Marriage – in Church: Sweden (queeringthechurch.wordpress.com)
- Oz Priest, on the Christian Case for Gay Marriage (queering-the-church.com)
- DC Bishop’s Christian Case for Gay Marriage. (queertheology.blogspot.com)
- Ten years on, same-sex couples renew their vows (thestar.com)