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Canadian Suits for Legal Marriage
Kebin Bourassa and Joe Varnell
© 2003, Partners

On January 14, 2001, two same-sex couples were legally married in a joint service before 1,000 people at Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) of Toronto using the ancient Christian tradition of the banns. Elaine Vautour married Anne Vautour, and Kevin Bourassa married Joe Varnell. The officiant was Brent Hawkes.

The Canadian government has illegally refused to honor these marriages with a legal marriage license. The province of Ontario was sued by Metropolitan Community Church Toronto on January 19, 2001, to recognize the marriages.

The following affidavit is from the male couple who were married.

Affidavit of Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell
Court File No. 39/2001
(Divisional Court)

We, Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell, of the City of Toronto, in the Municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, MAKE OATH AND SAY:

1. We are members of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCCT) congregation. We have been attending MCCT since 1997. We became members of the church in 1998.

2. We met one another in July of 1997 and began dating. Shortly thereafter, it became clear to both of us that we had each found that one person whom we valued above all others.

3. We joined our lives together in a ceremony of Holy Union at MCCT on August 28, 1999. We made the day as much like a wedding as we possibly could: we had flowers, a honeymoon trip, music and champagne. But even as we were joined on that day, we knew, as did our guests, that our federal and provincial governments did not recognize our celebration of love, and that we could not have a “real” marriage.

4. We are angered by this lack of recognition. We feel that our exclusion from the right to marriage is a devaluation of our relationship by the government. Our relationship is not held as equal to those of heterosexual couples.

5. At the time of our Holy Union we urged our friends to contact the Justice Minister and to petition for the changing of the law that excluded same-sex couples from marriage and all of the rights accorded to married couples. No change in the law was forthcoming, but still we joined our lives together and promised to remain with each other, in spite of having no legal standing as a couple.

6. Reverend Brent Hawkes presided at our Holy Union ceremony. He was aware of our desire to have our union legally recognized.

7. We learned of the process for marriage pursuant to the publication of banns from Reverend Hawkes. We were quick to step forward and ask that the ritual be performed for us.Reverend Hawkes read out our banns of marriage in church for three consecutive Sundays in December, 2000. No lawful objections were made to our marriage. We were wed on January 14, 2001, along with Elaine and Anne Vautour, in a double marriage ceremony performed at MCCT by Reverend Hawkes.

8. Many people have asked us why we wanted to have a wedding in addition to the Holy Union ceremony.Since August of 1999, the passage of certain laws has given us many of the rights of a heterosexual common law couple. However, so long as our right to marriage is denied, our human dignity and respect are compromised. We believe that we should have the right, as should any other Canadian citizen, to choose, from those options available, how to formalize our relationship. By excluding us from marriage, the government is sending a message that same-sex couples are second-class citizens as compared to opposite sex couples in Canada. We feel the impact of the government’s violation of our human rights every day in our lives.

9. Public perception was central to our desire to be legally married. On the occasion of our holy union in 1999, we had parents, siblings, relatives, and friends in attendance, as we did at our wedding on January 14th of this year. The reaction of our friends and family was vastly different at our wedding then it was at our holy union. The wedding was perceived to be the “real thing” in the minds of our witnesses and participants, and not a substitute or play-acting exercise. This perception of equality is extremely important as it shapes the attitudes of even those who are close to us, not just strangers who we encounter.

10. Our parents did not create a wedding cake for us at our holy union, as they did for our wedding. Our parents did not bestow upon us treasured heirlooms at our holy union, as they did at our wedding. We were not considered “in-laws” of each other’s family, as we are now. The marriage ceremony has changed people’s attitudes, deepened family ties, and fostered acceptance of our relationship in the minds of those who love us. We can only imagine the impact of legal recognition on those who don’t know us, and on those who see our lives and existence as less than that of our heterosexual fellow citizens.

11. In our daily business transactions, when we are forced to explain our marital status, we are often told that it “doesn’t count.” We call ourselves spouses, and behave like spouses, and yet without the legal recognition of our marriage, people treat us like “roommates.” When we explain to others that our relationship has “common law” status, we are often challenged or disbelieved. We find ourselves having to explain and defend our right to love each other.

12. Many people use terms to describe our relationship that indicate that they consider our relationship to be inferior to that of heterosexual couples. Many people think they are being kind when they refer to, “your friend Kevin” or “your friend Joe.” No one would dream of referring to the wife or husband in a heterosexual relationship as “your friend,” but it is considered polite to do so in our case. Kevin and I are friends, but we are so much more and each time we have to explain ourselves, it costs us a piece of our time and dignity.

13. We believe that Government stances shape public attitude and opinion. By refusing to allow same sex marriages, the government’s position translates, in very real terms to the public, to a lack of respect, recognition, and equality for many loving and committed relationships. At best, we are tolerated and at worst we are derided, scorned, and isolated from the rest of the Canadian community. Such isolation can only generate dysfunction on a personal level, in Canadian families, and within our communities.

14. For years, both of us were spiritually orphaned. We were both raised as Catholics and we both of us left the church as adolescents when we realized that, because of our sexual orientation, we were not welcome. Finding the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto was an incredible experience, liberating us from the spiritual abuse and intolerance of the past. At last, we heard an affirming message from a community leader, Reverend Hawkes, that God made us and loves us as we were. We do not understand how the government can tell our church that it can’t marry us. Nor do we understand how the government can refuse to register our marriage. At the front of the church’s sanctuary are the words, “My house shall be a house of prayer for all people.” We deeply hope that our nation, with its rights and protections, will prove to be a country that stands for all Canadians, and will provide full and equal rights to marriage regardless of sex or sexual orientation.

15. We regularly face discrimination, through commission and omission, because of the hatred, fear, ignorance or intolerance of those who wish to deny homosexuals equality in society. Simple acts such as holding hands on the sidewalk, or giving a quick kiss goodbye on the Toronto subway are daily acts of courage; we realize that we are opening ourselves up to the possibility of verbal or physical abuse.

16. We believe that the government is participating in this type of abuse so long as it fails to accept our right to equality. We know that legal recognition of our marriage will not change the world overnight, but it will begin to end these acts of discrimination, one at a time. Since our marriage, we have personally witnessed and experienced increases in tolerance on behalf of heterosexual Canadians. We have also seen increased courage among homosexuals to take their rightful place as full participating members of our community.

17. By declaring us to be legally married, we believe the government will send a clear message to Canadians, and to the rest of the world: that same-sex relationships are just as valid as any other relationship and equally deserving of the respect and protections afforded by this great country.

SWORN before me at
the City of Toronto, in the
Province of Ontario,
on the 24th day
of January, 2001. ____________________
                              KEVIN BOURASSA

A Commissioner for Taking Affidavits

SWORN before me at
the City of Toronto, in the
Province of Ontario,
on the 24th day
of January, 2001. ____________________
                              JOE VARNELL

A Commissioner for Taking Affidavits

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