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Created: August 31, 2003
Latest Update: August 31, 2003
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/31/international/americas/31CANA.html Original Source URL
August 31, 2003
Free to Marry, Canada's Gays Say, 'Do I?'
By CLIFFORD KRAUSS
[T] ORONTO, Aug. 30 — When David Andrew, a 41-year-old federal government employee, heard that the highest Ontario court had extended marriage rights to same-sex couples two months ago, he broke into a sweat.
"I was dreading the conversation," he said, fearing that his partner would feel jilted when he told him that he did not believe in the institution. "Personally, I saw marriage as a dumbing down of gay relationships. My dread is that soon you will have a complacent bloc of gay and lesbian soccer moms."
When he moved in with David Warren, a 41-year-old software company project officer, he wrote up a set of vows that remains above their bed, seven years later. They promise "a confidant, playmate, partner in crime, biggest fan and protector." But they stop short of monogamy, which is something Mr. Andrew also says he does not believe in.
His skepticism about marriage is a recurring refrain among Canadian gay couples, who have not rushed to marry in great numbers in the weeks since June 10, when they became eligible. Rather, the extension of marriage rights has thrown gays here into a heated debate, akin to the one that embroiled the American civil rights movement in the 1960's, over how much "integration" is a good thing — and what gay marriage should consist of.
How marriage affects gay and lesbian life in Canada, and wider society, is an issue being closely watched by gays in the United States, who see what is happening in Canada as a harbinger for American society.
In Canada, conservative commentators worry aloud that gay marriage will undermine society, but many gays express the fear that it will undermine their notions of who they are. They say they want to maintain the unique aspects of their culture and their place at the edge of social change.
It is a debate that pits those who celebrate a separate and flamboyant way of life as part of a counterculture against those who long for acceptance into the mainstream. So heated is the conversation that some gay Canadians said in interviews that they would not bring up the topic at dinner parties.
"Ambiguity is a good word for the feeling among gays about marriage," said Mitchel Raphael, editor in chief of Fab, a popular gay magazine in Toronto. "I'd be for marriage if I thought gay people would challenge and change the institution and not buy into the traditional meaning of `till death do us part' and monogamy forever. We should be Oscar Wildes and not like everyone else watching the play."
It is too soon to draw conclusions about how widespread gay marriage will become in Canada over time. Many same-sex couples say they need time to consider so basic a commitment, or are waiting for the anniversary of their first dates or of their commitment ceremonies to tie the knot.
Gay men seem more apprehensive about marriage than lesbians, and generally, couples with children, or thinking of having children, express more interest in marrying.
The ambivalence is reflected in the numbers of gay couples who have chosen marriage so far. While members of Toronto's gay population, by far Canada's largest, express support of the Ontario court's ruling and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien's decision to introduce legislation to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, they have not mobilized to defend the change. Even as some churches and conservative politicians have begun to mobilize against the legislation, demonstrations for it have been few and mostly small.
Between the June 10 court ruling and last Monday, 590 gay and lesbian couples had taken out marriage licenses in Toronto's city hall, out of a total of 5,500 couples receiving licenses. And more than a hundred of the gay couples were American who crossed the border to marry.
A total of 6,685 same-sex Toronto couples registered as permanent partners in the 2001 census, about one-fifth of the total across Canada.
Still, the numbers are enough to have spawned the beginnings of a gay marriage industry. The magazine Fab published a guide to Toronto's new gay marriage scene, with tips on bridal harnesses and blue leather garters, bachelor party strippers and where to find counterculture bouquets of green roses and black magic flowers.
But the issue also included an essay by Rinaldo Walcott, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, warning that marriage could be an agent of homogenization.
"I can already hear folks saying things like: `Why are bathhouses needed? Straights don't have them,' " he wrote. "Will queers now have to live with the heterosexual forms of guilt associated with something called cheating?"
Many gays and lesbians who celebrate their new rights view such thinking as retrograde.
"It's the vestiges of a culture of victimization, of a culture that's tied to being in a ghetto," said Enrique Lopez, 38, an investment banker who has been in a steady relationship for two years but says he is not ready to marry.
"The vast majority want to live innocuous, boring lives, and the option of marriage is part of that dream."
The ambivalence toward marriage is not confined to gays and lesbians, on either side of the border. Common-law arrangements represent 14 percent of all households in Canada, according to the 2001 census, considerably more than the figure for unmarried households in the United States, which the census of 2000 put at 9.1 percent.
All told 1,158,410 couples live in common-law arrangements throughout Canada, according to the 2001 census, which found 34,200 self-identified same-sex couples.
"So many of our American gay friends are so pro-marriage and excited that marriage is happening here," said Peter Blanchet, a 46-year-old opera singer. His partner, Brad Eyre, a 35-year-old senior Toronto city manager, interrupted, "The Canadians less so."
The two have been together for eight years and share a house, and they are thinking about marriage. Nevertheless, Mr. Eyre added, "I don't see the need to rush."
Because common-law couples have most of the same rights and obligations in Canada as married couples — from jointly filing tax returns to spousal support after a breakup — many gay couples here do not see much reason to marry.
"Physically, legally, emotionally, we don't feel the need to have a piece of paper to prove our union," said Penny Gyokeres, 30, an unemployed warehouse manager, who has lived for four years with Cheryl Fulcher, 44, a retail merchandise analyst.
But there are benefits for those who want to have children and share parental rights.
Rachel Hesson-Bolton, a 33-year-old driving instructor, said she was eager to be able to share the parenting responsibilities with her spouse, Katherine Hesson-Bolton, a 41-year-old fund-raiser, who recently gave birth to a boy with the help of a sperm bank. "I will be his mom, not his guardian," she said.
But Rachel said their marriage was more than about parenthood, adding: "I love the stability of our relationship. If there is one thing I can count on it's my family. We are so mainstream."
With her mohawk hairdo and her wedding band tattooed on her right biceps, Rachel looks anything but mainstream. The two are also an interracial couple who were married by a gay rabbi even though neither is Jewish. To Rachel, they also typify the melding of the married world with the gay and lesbian world.
"It's the people sitting home with their cats who are going to get married," she said. "They are already in the mind-set."
Tricia Lewis, a 42-year-old legal assistant, said she relished the mundane things that went along with her new marriage to Tanya Gulliver, a 34-year-old social justice worker at an Anglican church. She recalled entering a pharmacy near their home in Hamilton, Ontario, the other day to sign for a prescription for Tanya, who was waiting in their car.
"When I said to the pharmacist, `I'll sign for it because we're married,' he laughed his head off," she said.
"I said, `Dude, I hope you are laughing at something else.' He didn't know what to do, but I got the prescription," she said with a triumphant laugh.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company