Nunavut should accept same-sex couples


For the first time, I felt excited about participating in an upcoming federal consultation on marriage and same-sex couples to be held in Iqaluit on April 30.

I have been reading Egale, Halpern and Hendricks – cases about same-sex couples applying for marriage licenses or who already were married in a “traditional” wedding, but who were either denied their application or not recognized as legally wed.

The Supreme Court levels of the jurisdictions in the provinces involved gave the federal government two years to consult on this issue and try to come up with solutions on same-sex marriage.

The cases were before the courts because the applicants, or the various intervenors, challenged the idea that the law denied them equality rights under the Charter. In the newer two cases, the courts did find that their equality rights were infringed.

But in the end, it did not provide the remedy the claimants sought: legal recognition of a same-sex marriage. The courts thought it was better for the federal government to consult ultimately with the people of Canada.

The federal government has power over the capacity of marriage and defines who can marry; the provinces have the power of solemnization and how the marriage may be carried out. I thought to myself – boy, do same-sex couples face a double whammy – they have to try to convince two governments that they deserve recognition.

I was excited because for once, I felt I had enough knowledge to participate in such a federal consultation.

In the Egale case, which was heard in 2000, the judge in British Columbia found there was no denial of equality rights. He accepted the government’s leading argument that marriage is mainly about procreation – a fancy word for making babies – and that same-sex couples cannot biologically produce children and therefore a denial of an equality right does not exist.

In Halpern, in 2002, the three judges in this Ontario case did find there was a violation of an equality right. One suggested legalizing the marriage on the spot; the other suggested an alternative; the third did not really comment. The alternatives that the second judge suggested were a registered domestic partnership regime or a civil union regime.

Because they could not all agree on the remedy, they decided it best that the government provide the remedy – and consult with the people of Canada.

I found it amazing that in the span of two years, the courts could change their views on any given issue and that, with time, people could become more accepting.

I particularly liked the newer cases because they were so starkly different from the first one. The main judge said that to deny marriage was to deny dignity to same-sex couples.

Procreation, he found, is an argument that is really discrimination in disguise. Same-sex couples adopt, have children from previous opposite-sex marriages and so on. The judge also said that to be offered a registered domestic partnership or civil union regime would be to provide a second-rate alternative – a piecemeal.

I think those alternatives provide some recognition. But they do not provide the full sense of belonging.

I thought of coming to the consultation to say that we should provide legal recognition of marriage. Marriage is a longstanding and deeply embedded tradition, in both the Inuit and Qallunaat cultures. It is not going anywhere soon.

We in Canada are not familiar with the domestic partnership regime (although Nova Scotia has adopted it). It is widely used in Europe. Civil unions are more accepted within our multicultural, modern society. But if that were the only option available, it just wouldn’t feel right, because it would segregate a group of persons from another group of persons.

I should know – I’m a humanist (atheist) who got married in an Anglican church. I opted for this because I wanted to marry with the presence of my predominantly religious family and friends who I yearned to celebrate with.

My marriage is quite legal, yet I did not hold a belief in the religion it was performed in. It is also quite real. I feel no different than any other married person. To deny such an option to same-sex couples would be to deny such a sense of belonging within family, friends and the community as a whole.

I doubt there will be any same-sex weddings in Nunavut any time soon. The judgment from society would be too harsh at this early time. But the government should take a stand and provide recognition of marriages all the same. It would be a message that it’s OK.

At least same-sex couples would know that they could be legally accepted and that society should follow suit. Same-sex couples are not aliens. They are our family, they are our friends, they are our community members.

Piqannirtavut. Inuuqatigiittiaqtavut. We eat with them, we smile with them, we have already accepted them as being people no different than us – we don’t even think of their orientation when we socialize with them.

Sexual orientation is not about technical biology or procreation. It is also a bit hard to believe that Inuit culture did not and will not accept same-sex orientation, because, as they say, it was historically not accepted. Inuit culture adapts, more surprisingly than anyone thinks.

The least accepting of same-sex orientation, the politicians and the media say, are the elders. But some of them have already accepted, more easily than us young folk.

These elders possess a larger underlying understanding than technical biology and historical blockage. They understand self-worth, acceptance, that each and every one of us has a place in this world, they understand practicality, need and interdependence (not what is different) and, more than any of us younger folk, they are more willing to admit same-sex Inuit belong with us.

That is what I’d like to say at the consultation, but I’m not as articulate with the spoken word than I am on paper.

Inuk woman

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