HOUSTON VOICE www.houston voice.com
JUNE 20, 2003
Gay marriage in U.S. still an uncertainty
MARRIAGE, continued from Page 1
European countries, which have a residency requirement before gay couples
can be wed. Ontario has no such
Gay marriage activists on both sides
of the border are celebrating the
court's decision. Many American advocates of marriage equality are hopeful
that the Canadian prime minister's
public avowal of their cause may mean
a sea change in attitudes in the United
"What this presents for American
couples is an opportunity to easily
enter into a legal marriage and come
back to the United States with a powerful tool to break down the remaining
discrimination here," Lavi Soloway.
founder of the New York-based Lesbian
& Gay Immigration Rights Task Force,
told the Times.
Advocates like Soloway also hope that
couples returning from Canada will
challenge states' refusal to recognize the
legality of their relationships.
U.S. couples face uncertainties
Already, there appears to be a smattering of U.S. gay couples going to
Toronto, Windsor. Ottawa, Stratford and
other Ontario cities to marry.
The number may be higher after
provincial officials process fhe qualifying documents from interested couples,
but "currently there are 10 same-sex
marriage registrants," said Gerald
Crowell, a spokesperson with the
Ministry of Consumer & Business
Services in Ontario.
American couples wedded in Ontario
may still face "uncertainties and discrimination," upon their return to the
United States, according to a joint advisory issued by New York-based Freedom
to Marry and other pro-gay marriage
"People in Seattle cannot go to
Vancouver." said Evan Wolfson. executive director of Freedom to Marry. "As
of today, only in Ontario may they
A spokesperson at the Office of the
Registrar General for the province of
Ontario said a few couples registered to
get married on the day of the decision.
"It's tapered off a little since then."
Registering is a two-step process,
Crowell said. First, applicants must go to
city hall to fill out a series of forms.
Those papers are then filed with the
provincial government at the Registrar
General. Crowell speculates that there
may be 20 or more couples who have
already registered in Toronto.
Crowell was unsure of the percentage
of American applicants.
"We don't capture that residency
data," he said.
The majority of gay marriages in
Ontario are taking place in Toronto and
Ottawa, the Canadian capital, he added.
Michael Ustiner (left) and Michael Stalk celebrated their marriage with a bottle of champagne. They were
the first gay couple legally married in Canada. (Photo by Michael Stupyark/Toronto Star)
Toronto City Counselor Kyle Rae said
four American couples have wed there
"We have people from Pennsylvania,
Massachusetts, Florida and Washington," said Rae, a gay member of the City
Council. "Since June 10, there have been
a total of 131 same-sex marriages" in the
Rae himself plans to join their ranks
June 20 by marrying his partner of nine
years, Mark Reid, at a ceremony in an
art gallery within the downtown ward
that Rae represents.
In a bow to organized religion,
Chretien announced that his proposed
bill would allow religious institutions to
refuse to marry gay couples. But in
Canada as elsewhere, couples can be wed
in civil ceremonies as well as religious
ceremonies where a member of fhe clergy is licensed by the government to perform marriage ceremonies.
In most towns throughout Ontario,
a marriage license can be obtained
from the clerk at the Marriage
License Issuers, the Canadian equivalent of a marriage bureau. The
license is valid anywhere in Ontario
for three months.
To obtain a license, only one of fhe
parties must be physically present.
Necessary documents are identification,
such as a birth certificate, current passport and photo identification for both
individuals. The fee varies slightly from
city to city.
Mass. case pending
In the United States, the issue of
gay marriage is about to become
At present, Massachusetts presents
the most likely prospect for approximating Ontario's decision and even
moving beyond neighboring Vermont's
civil unions, according to Mary
Bonauto, an attorney at Boston-based
Gay & Lesbian Advocates and
Bonauto argued a case in front of the
Massachusetts State Supreme Judicial
Court on March 4, in which she represented seven same-sex couples seeking
the right to marry under the state
Constitution. By law, a decision must be
made 130 days after the argument, so
Bonauto expects a ruling soon.
"We could win it, or also lose it, or
end up in a Vermont-type decision in
which the court says you're entitled to
the protections of marriage." she said.
"Our case argues that [current interpretation of the law-] is excluding same-sex
couples from what is already in the
Constitution," she said.
If fhe court agrees with her plaintiffs,
then the state legislature doesn't have to
take up any amendment to current law,
The premise of the right for gay couples to marry is based on "equality, liberty and privacy," she said.
Many states have passed so-called
"defense of marriage acts," which limit
marriage to a man and a woman. In 1996,
President Bill Clinton signed the national Defense of Marriage Act into law-.
N.J. case heads to court
New Jersey is providing another judicial battleground for the fight to marry.
The State Supreme Court agreed to hear
oral arguments in the case of seven
"Canada this week has shown us
what's possible in New Jersey." said
David Buckel, an attorney at Lambda
Legal Defense & Education Fund, which
is arguing the case.
The state's attorney general tried to
quash the suit by arguing that gay people can indeed marry — just not each
other. Lambda Legal successfully fended off that challenge. Gov. Jim
McGreevey said he cannot comment on
court cases, but shortly after the case
was filed, the Democrat said he objects
to any effort by a court to reverse state
law as it applies to marriage.
But a multi-pronged approach will
impel legislation and public sentiment
to include gay couples, Bonauto said.
If the Massachusetts decision is
favorable to gays, it will be a national
boon for gay marriage, she said.
"We all know gay families live in
every county," she said. "The families
are there as a part of the community.
They need the same protection afforded
to other families. We're in a civil rights
ft MORE INFO
Freedom to Marry
Lambda Legal Defense 4 Education Fund
Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders