Proving nothing

Feds should get out of marriage biz

“We believe that marriage, for gay and lesbian people as well as straight people, should not be legislated by the government at all,” says CLGRO spokesperson and long-time activist Tom Warner. “A wedding should strictly be a religious or spiritual ceremony without any legal status or special privileges.”

It’s an almost heretical position at a time when same-sex marriage has become the highest profile issue around lesbian and gay rights. This summer, an Ontario superior court ruled that the federal definition of marriage as “a union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others” violates the Canadian Charter Of Rights And Freedoms. The federal government is putting the issue before a parliamentary committee.

And judging from popular opinion as well as the ever-increasing rights conferred to gay and lesbian couples, the recognition of same-sex marriage seems inevitable. The majority of Canadians are in support of gay marriage. In fact, the only people who are actively fighting against same-sex marriage are far right religious conservatives.

All of which makes CLGRO’s stand so extraordinary – and worth a closer look.

“The issue for us is that marriage has been a privileged and exclusive institution,” Warner says, “and a relationship that continues to have connotations of morality and legitimacy, meaning that other types of relationships are seen as inferior.

“Our view is that gay and lesbian couples shouldn’t have to prove to anyone the legitimacy of their relationships. There’s also the history of marriage as an institution that fulfils social obligations, joining families together, or consolidating property or for procreation. We know that is no longer the case. Our view is that traditional marriage is a relationship model that no longer accurately fits a lot of people.”

What CLGRO favours instead is a system of registered domestic partnerships, what CLGRO calls “a form of optional civil union,” for everyone, gay or straight, who wishes to have their relationship regulated by federal and provincial governments. Weddings would be strictly religious and social events, without any legal implications. And unlike the current common-law system, couples who chose to live together would not have rights and obligations automatically extended to their relationship after a set amount of time.

Further, an individual could choose whomever they like to register as their significant other – a friend, a sibling, a parent – and with whom they would share the domestic partnership.

Warner is careful to clarify that CLGRO doesn’t want to take away anyone’s rights.

“Certainly our stand is that if the current system is not going to be rethought in the way we suggest, then we feel that equality is the least that should be offered to us. If our current marriage structure is maintained, same-sex couples should be able to marry without discrimination.”


Warner says CLGRO’s viewpoint comes from its gay liberationist history. The organization’s backgrounder on marriage states: “People should be given the choice to define for themselves where they stand in the system. Government officials should not be put in the invidious position of deciding for people what their relationships are.”

Warner admits that CLGRO’s proposal is a hard sell, though it’s not as radical as one might think. A similar system of registered domestic partnerships is one of the many models the parliamentary committee is currently examining. And recently, the Law Commission Of Canada recommended decreasing government regulation of relationships.

The trouble with the fight for same-sex marriage, says Warner, is that it has eclipsed all other issues.

“As same-sex marriage has become the focus of the queer community, there’s this sense that once we win this, that means we will have acceptance and that the battle is over,” he says. “But I think for someone living in a small town, who has no resources, who faces homophobia at their workplace or when they try to access health care and social services, having the right to marry will have no impact on their lives at all.”

* Rachel Giese and Tom Warner take part in the Xtra panel, Shotgun Wedding: A Lively Discussion On Same-Sex Marriage, at Tallulah’s Cabaret (12 Alexander St) on Thu, Oct 24. Doors at 7pm, discussions at 8pm. It’s free; call (416) 925-6665.

Rachel Giese is a deputy national editor at The Globe and Mail and the former director of editorial at Xtra. She lives in Toronto and is an English speaker.

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