Tying the Windsor knot

Aug 4, 2004 at 12:00 am

In the eyes of Canada, Layton Dorey and Tim Gill are legally married. The Grosse Pointe Park couple wed last August in a Unitarian church near Leamington, Ontario.

Their wedding reception, however, was held back in America, at the Detroit Yacht Club. As a member for many years, Dorey says the club was happy to host his reception. But he hit a shoal when attempting to have his new spouse added to the membership rolls.

“The membership director took it upon herself to intercede in the normal procedure and simply issue a spousal membership,” Dorey says. “She forwarded my spousal membership application to the board. After getting legal advice, the board determined it is not required to recognize a same-sex marriage and decided they didn’t want to issue a same-sex spousal membership to Tim.”

He notes that the club’s commodore “felt free to attend our reception, take our $15,000 to have the reception there, take my yearly membership dues and take money for the boat … [then] the DYC secretary wrote us a letter stating that we welcome Tim to continue to be your guest.

“It is the worst kind of hypocrisy. It is so symptomatic of society at large: ‘Oh, those people are fine so long as you don’t force us to acknowledge them.’”

The Detroit Yacht Club declined comment on the matter.

It is a hot-button issue. In the past year, elected officials in a few U.S. cities staged high-profile gay marriage ceremonies. The Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are legal. Recently, Republicans in the U.S. Senate launched a debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the definition of marriage to a union between one man and one woman. That effort was undone in the U.S. Senate on July 14.

Meanwhile, gay and lesbian couples have been legally tying the knot in Canada for the past year.

Dorey and Gill are one of 102 American same-sex couples that have crossed into Windsor to wed.

The Court of Appeals for Ontario unanimously ruled in June 2003 that the common-law definition of marriage (one man and one woman) was unconstitutional and violated the equality guarantees of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms amendment. The decision made same-sex marriage legal in Ontario.

The Court of Appeals in British Columbia and Quebec soon followed suit by granting same-sex couples the right to marry.

Since the Ontario court’s decision last year, 141 same-sex licenses have been issued in the City of Windsor — 31 to Canadian citizens marrying other Canadians, seven to Canadians marrying Americans, 102 to American couples, and one listed as “other,” according to City of Windsor License and Enforcement official Mark Ferrari.

“It was a way to publicly declare our love for each other,” says Dorey. “We were stunned, we never believed marriage for us would be legally possible anywhere in our lifetime, that’s what it really meant to us. Marriage changes how you think about your relationship. It’s not your just living together. I think it makes a psychological difference. You are married.”

But not in the eyes of Michigan.

Seeking legitimacy

On a sunny day last September on the tranquil shores of Point Pelee, Ontario, Cathy and Linda Schneider exchanged marriage vows in front of family and friends for the second time in their nine-year relationship.

Cathy and Linda had participated in a commitment ceremony that included 100 couples as part of the Gay & Lesbian Pride March 1996, on the steps of the Michigan Capitol in Lansing.

“Going to Canada to get married — it legitimizes who we are,” Cathy says. “In Canada, they recognize us as real people. Our relationship is valid, and I really wish the States would recognize us. In the States, it is not only the rights we would get by being married but it’s the legal recognition that we have a valid relationship.”

Despite their Canadian marriage license, the Ferndale couple must overcome hurdles.

For example, Cathy and Linda are in the process of legally changing Linda’s name to Schneider (the name she now uses socially) by petitioning the court. A woman can assume her husband’s last name by simply taking her marriage license to the Secretary of State’s office and filling out a form.

“It cost $300 to $400 to change one of our names,” says Cathy. “We are waiting for clearance to go to court to change her name. Linda had to go to the local police department to be fingerprinted because of a 9/11 law that requires it to ensure you’re not a terrorist. Anyone changing his or her name must be fingerprinted.”

Likewise, gay and lesbian couples must go to court to ensure legal rights regarding property and other matters — rights that are automatically provided to married heterosexuals.

For example, many U.S. hospitals allow only immediate family to visit critically ill patients. Gays and lesbians are sometimes denied visitation because they are not legally defined as family, according to the Triangle Foundation, an advocacy group that serves the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community of Michigan.

Michigan law does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other countries or states, making it difficult for same-sex couples to share ownership of homes bought together.

“In order to put Tim on the title of the house, we have to re-title the house,” says Dorey. “If the house is re-titled, the house has to be reassessed and the taxes have to be reassessed at the current market value. That is a huge financial penalty. It’s one of the things heterosexual married couples don’t have to do.”

The right fights

As in the United States, there is strong opposition among Canada’s religious right to legally sanctioned gay marriage, with some of the most vocal protests coming from the Baptist and Roman Catholic churches.

At the 2003 Baptist Convention of Ontario and Quebec, for example, delegates drafted and affirmed the “Definition of Marriage,” which declares that marriage is between one man and one woman for life to the exclusion of all others, that sexual intercourse is to be confined to one man and one woman in marriage. The doctrine also states that all accredited pastors, chaplains, and counselors retain the right to refuse to marry any couple — a right not threatened by changes in the law. The delegates approved language directing clergy not to perform same-sex ceremonies.

However, the group also approved of civil unions granting same-sex couples the same legal benefits enjoyed by those in traditional marriages.

But that’s not enough for many gay and lesbian couples.

“The opposition kind of talk out of two sides of their mouth,” says Linda Schneider. “They say we are immoral people and we don’t want to have a legitimate relationship. They say we move from person to person but when we want to have a relationship that is quote ‘moral or monogamist,’ they fight us.”

After the Ontario appellate court’s ruling, the Canadian Parliament drafted a bill to amend the Canadian constitution legalizing same-sex marriages across Canada. It asked that the Canadian court consider the issue to help guide the process.

Oral arguments in the case are to be heard in October. Twenty-nine groups representing both sides of the issue are lined up as “interveners” that will submit briefs arguing for or against legally sanctioned same-sex marriages.

“The issue of same-sex marriage is more or less as controversial in Canada as in the U.S.,” says Roy Amore, professor of Religion and Politics at the University of Windsor.

Amore, however, says the issue is playing out far differently in the two countries.

“It’s not quite as polarizing here,” says Amore, “mainly because the religious right is not as organized and politicized in Canada as it is in the U.S.”

Although the difference can be overstated, Amore observes that “on most social issues, [the] scale tips slightly toward the more liberal side in Canada.”

Also, politics as a whole tend to be a bit more civil north of our border, where the bloody-knuckled vitriol that can characterize U.S. campaigns is frowned upon by voters.

“There is more of a backlash against extreme statements here,” says Amore.

Amore predicts that the public debate in his country will become even more heated as the court date approaches.

What doesn’t change much are the arguments posited by each side.

“We believe the government doesn’t have the power to legalize same-sex marriages,” says David Brown, attorney for Focus on Family in Canada Association, a Christian group that is intervening in the court case. “My client believes the federal government is overstepping its authority.”

The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops is also weighing in, arguing that same-sex marriage does more than threaten the sanctity of the union between a man and a woman. In an argument similar to one made in the U.S. Senate, the bishops maintain that same-sex marriage will somehow undermine heterosexual relations.

“Marriage is about the creation and nurturing of children,” says CCCB attorney Bill Sammon, who goes on to say that church-sanctioned marriage is needed to “ensure we have the next generation of Canadians.”

He also contends that allowing same-sex marriage will lay the foundation for the legalization for other unions such as polygamy.

Among those who will be arguing in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage across Canada is Michael Morris, lead counsel for the attorney general of Canada.

“Marriage is widely understood as an institution that is monogamous in nature, based on intimacy, companionship, recognition, economic benefits and obligations,” says Morris. “The unions of same-sex couples fall within this current understanding of the essence of marriage.”

Cynthia Peterson, attorney for the gay advocacy group Egale, is looking forward to a favorable high court ruling that will codify the law throughout the country.

“My client does not want to have to go from province to province to change the law,” she says.

The United Church of Canada, the country’s largest protestant denomination, is also an intervener in favor of same-sex marriage.

“All people of all sexual orientation[s] are made in the image of God,” says Richard Chambers of the UCC. “Marriage is about love and understanding. It can be between a man and a woman or a same-sex couple. Gays and lesbians are able to have a monogamous and loving relationship.”

Duane Barbati is a Metro Times intern. Send comments to [email protected]