Tag Archives: MCC

Australia vote evokes our own marriage debates

This week, Australians voted for marriage laws to be changed to allow same-sex marriage, with the yes vote claiming 61.6% to 38.4%. The debate was divisive (and at times nasty), the vote was expensive, and many within and outside the country critiqued the idea that a plebiscite is an appropriate tool for determining minority rights.

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Australians celebrating the yes vote. Photograph: Scott Barbour, Getty Images, in The Guardian.

In Canada, the road to marriage equality had many speedbumps, twists, and turns. Here in Alberta, our political leaders strenuously resisted changes to the definition of marriage, including agitating for a national plebiscite on the issue.

Here is a brief timeline of Canada’s (and Alberta’s) journey to same-sex marriage.

September 1995. Openly gay, Bloc Québécois, Member of Parliament (MP) Réal Ménard introduces a motion calling for legal recognition of same-sex relationships. The House of Commons votes 124-52 to reject it.

March 1998. Another gay MP, New Democrat, Svend Robinson introduces a private member’s bill to legalize same-sex marriage. It does not pass first reading.

May 1999. The Supreme Court of Canada rules in M. v. H. that same-sex couples in Canada are entitled to receive many of the financial and legal benefits commonly associated with marriage.

June 1999, The House of Commons overwhelmingly passes a resolution to re-affirm the definition of marriage as “the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others.”

March 2000. The Alberta Government passes Bill 202 which amends the provincial Marriage Act to include an opposite-sex-only definition of marriage. The bill also promises to invoke the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms to insulate the legislation from any legal challenge based on Charter rights violations.

January 2001. Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Reverend Brent Hawkes attempts an end run for same-sex marriage by taking advantage of a little-used common law marriage protocol “reading the banns of marriage.” The Ontario registrar refuses to accept this marriage as legally performed triggering a lawsuit.

June 2003. The Court of Appeal for Ontario confirms a lower court ruling declaring Canadian laws on marriage violate the equality provisions in the Canadian Charter by being restricted to heterosexual couples. The court decides there would be no grace period for adjustment, making Ontario the first jurisdiction in North America to recognize same-sex marriage. (It also ruled the MCC banns marriages legal). Prime Minister Jean Chrétien announces that the Federal Government would not seek to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.

July 2003. The B.C. Court of Appeal makes a similar decision.  Same-sex marriages are now allowed in British Columbia.

March 2004. The Quebec Court of Appeals rules similarly to the Ontario and B.C. courts and orders its decision to take effect immediately. Now, more than two-thirds of Canada’s population live in provinces where same-sex marriage has been legalized.

February 2005. The Civil Marriage Act, Bill C-38, is introduced by Prime Minister Paul Martin’s Liberal minority government. He advises that it will be a free vote in the House of Commons. Many Liberals assert they will vote against the government on this bill. Then Calgary based Canada Family Action Coalition declares a boycott on Famous Players Theatres because of a ten-second ad that urges moviegoers to contact their MPs to say they support same-sex marriage

May 2005. Paul Martin’s minority government survives an impossibly close (153-152) motion of confidence, almost scuttling the legislation.

June 2005. Bill C-38 passes third reading in the House of Commons in an extended debate well into the evening of June 28th. The vote total is 158-133. The Prime Minister allows the Liberal backbenchers a free vote but whips his cabinet into voting for the bill causing Minister Joe Comuzzi, a traditional opponent of same-sex marriage, to resign from cabinet. The voting breakdown is:

Party For Against Absentees Total
Liberals 95 32 4 131
Conservatives 3 93 2 98
Bloc 43 5 6 54
NDP 17 1 1 19
Independents 0 2 2 4

Calgary Centre MP Lee Richardson is one of only a handful of Conservative MPs who vote in favour of Bill C-38. Stephen Harper controversially claims that “the law lacks legitimacy because it passed with the support of the separatist Bloc party.” NDP MP Bev Desjarlais is stripped of her position in the NDP’s shadow cabinet for voting against it. Alberta Premier Ralph Klein opines that the Alberta Government might opt to stop solemnizing marriages entirely, suggesting that the Government would issue civil union licences to both opposite-sex and same-sex couples.

July 12, 2005, Klein concedes that expert legal advice suggests that refusing to marry same-sex couples had little chance of succeeding in a court challenge. “Much to our chagrin,” he adds.

July 20, 2005. Bill C-38 receives royal assent after passing in the Senate the previous day. The law affects Alberta, Prince Edward Island, Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, the only jurisdictions in Canada whose courts had not yet decided in favour of same-sex marriage.

December 2006. Prime Minister Stephen Harper brings a motion to reopen the definition of marriage with his Conservative minority government.  The House of Commons defeats the motion 175-123. Prime Minister Harper declares the issue concluded.

Epilogue:

In a recent interview, former Prime Minister Paul Martin acknowledged his conflicted voting history on the issue. Martin noted that he opposed same-sex marriage in 1999 but later realized that he had not given sufficient consideration to the question. He related a personal anecdote of close family friends who have a lesbian daughter. She was happily partnered in Vancouver. He emphatically said: “What right do we have to deny happiness to people?” This personal revelation helped make Canadian history.

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The Golden Age of Gay Bars in YYC

Calgary was booming in the 70s. The city’s population increased about 50% in those 10 years. Club Carousel, the only gay club at the beginning of the decade saw its popularity wane as commercial gay bars opened in the city. The owners and operators had more capital to invest in their emerging discotheques, and the growing gay community flocked to them.

The Parkside Continental ran from 1973-1986 and was located at the corner of 13th Avenue and 4th Street SW (where Shelf Life Books is currently). The Parkside was named after a famous gay tavern in Toronto. Vance Campbell, a businessman and gay bar owner from Vancouver moved to Calgary to start the Parkside with local partners.

In the early years, there were provincial regulations about food being served with alcohol at bars. Rudy Labuhn, who was initially a DJ at the club and then manager, remembered that when the Parkside began they served 50 cent burgers to all drinkers.  He explained that the Province also limited the amount of recorded music that could be played. Fortunately, a straight bar called Lucifer challenged those rules successfully ushering in the age of disco to Calgary. Interestingly, the bar would end most nights with a song that was decidedly more downtempo: Broadway singer Maureen McGovern’s song, “The Continental.”

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A grainy image of Vance Campbell in front of the Parkside Continental from the Body Politic, Sept. 1980.

The Parkside expanded upstairs creating a second bar called The Green Room. The Imperial Sovereign Court of the Chinook Arch in April 1976 was founded there; their first coronation followed in January 1977 at the Holiday Inn Downtown. Drag legend, Sandy St. Peters who grew up in Calgary and lived and performed across Canada, entertained occasionally at the Parkside. After a big Saturday night at the bar, she would run across the street to campily welcome churchgoers arriving Sunday morning for early service at the First Baptist Church. In addition to drag performances, Eartha Kitt famously did a highly regarded concert one night in the Green Room.

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Sandy St. Peters (1953-2001). Image Source: YouTube

Vance Campbell proved to be a divisive figure at times publicly opposing the local gay activist community, which revolved around Gay Information & Resources Calgary (GIRC), headquartered only one block away. He was described by the Body Politic in 1980 as one of the power brokers in the gay community “confident enough of his position to write to the mayor and counter GIRC’s claim that Calgary could face a gay rights march.”

Another reason perhaps why Campbell felt powerful was he was an owner of Calgary’s other gay bar of note: Myrt’s.  Opened in 1976, the sign on the building said Myrt’s Beauty Parlour and was located at 808 9 Ave. SW (now a parking lot). This gay lounge and disco were initially open Friday and Saturday nights for men only. As its popularity grew, it operated six nights/week and became a mixed club, reportedly played the best music in the city.

Parkside Discotheques

Advertisement in GIRC’s 1977 publication, “Gay Moods”

A hallway off the dance floor led to a 150-seat theatre known as the “Backlot” which also served as an after-hours bar. The gay community was encouraged to use it as much as possible; it was the venue for emerging theatre artists, Imperial Court drag shows, Mr Butch Calgary “Slave Auctions” and, on Sunday mornings, Metropolitan Community Church services. Myrts’ final song every night was Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.”

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Butch Bucks from a Calgary Slave Auction in 1978. Donated to the YYC Gay Archives by Terry MacKenzie.

The bar closed on New Year’s Eve 1981/1982 as the building fell victim to boomtown redevelopment. Myrt’s and the Backlot briefly moved to 17th avenue before it closed again. One former patron broke into the site and retrieved the neon “Backlot” sign. The preserved sign now hangs over the door of the contemporary Backlot bar on 10th Ave. SW.

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Neon sign at the Backlot Bar, 2017. Photo: Kevin Allen.

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Gays & The United Church Part 1

In preparation for a presentation at Knox United Church in May, the Calgary Gay History Project dove into learning about the struggles the United Church of Canada had in coming to terms with sexual orientation. The United Church through its history has been a leader in a number of progressive issues, where other Christian denominations have remained resistant to social change. Grappling with homosexuality proved a difficult and divisive challenge for the United Church, and there were several twists and turns in their journey.

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Knox United Church in Calgary Celebrated 10 Years as an Affirming Congregation in May 2017.

One of the first stirrings of the issue happened in 1965 with Pierre Berton’s publication of The Comfortable Pew: A Critical Look at Christianity and the Religious Establishment on the New Age. He brought up the issue of homosexuality and the church, noting the omission of homosexuality from clergy conversation and sermons. He described the homosexual then, as the modern equivalent of the leper. In Calgary, this idea made news when an Anglican Minister, inspired by the book, called for an embrace of homosexuals in his congregation.

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It also generated an article that year in the United Church Observer, the Church’s monthly magazine, which stated that homosexuals should be warmly welcomed by congregations and that some same-sex relationships be given a church blessing. The article generated a significant amount of alarm amongst the clergy.

This issue at the United Church simmered in the background for a decade. In the meantime, Canadian society was changing rapidly.  Decriminalization of homosexuality passed in Parliament in 1969. The gay-centred Metropolitan Community Church movement had begun and by 1977 there were congregations in six Canadian cities, including Calgary.

In the late 70s, a United Church task force on human sexuality was commissioned, headed by a Calgarian: Reverend Jim Hillson. Their finding was that “sexual expression is appropriate when it occurs in the context of a loving and committed relationship – for both heterosexuals and homosexuals.” A United Church Observer editorial shot down the finding and promised contention at the General Council – the Church’s highest court. And it was true.

In 1980, the 28th General Council convened in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The report debated at the meeting, In God’s Image… Male and Female was two years in the making. The 103-page document recommended considering the ordination of homosexuals.  It also suggested that sex outside the institution of marriage could be acceptable under certain circumstances.  One delegate called it: “the most dangerous and misleading document to come before the church in my lifetime.” Church headquarters also received hundreds of letters overwhelmingly opposed to the report, yet the majority of the General Council approved it – but only as a study document.

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The issue began to polarize the United Church and preoccupy the next few General Councils. Two internal lobbying groups organized: AFFIRM, a newly formed 200-member organization of homosexual congregants and clergy; and the Renewal Fellowship, a 3,000 member grouping of the Church’s conservative wing, founded in 1965, who vociferously argued against the ordination of homosexuals. An informal survey conducted by the Renewal Fellowship in British Columbia showed that 45% of church administrators would leave their church if a homosexual minister was assigned there.

A passionate debate was heard on the issue at the 30th General Council in 1984 held in Morden, Manitoba. There, the recommendation to allow the ordination of “self-declared” homosexuals was overwhelmingly rejected. Ironically, the Church suspected that 10% of its clergy were already homosexual whether or not they were out about it. Consequently, the Council also resolved to begin an extensive 4-year study on “the nature of sexual orientation and practice.”

Interestingly, the homosexual ordination vote failed to satisfy either lobby group. Reverend Morley Clarke, of the Renewal Fellowship, argued that the Council failed to ban homosexual ordination outright, allowing for non-declared homosexuals to serve. He explained: “There is going to be a lot of anger about this issue.  The church at the grassroots has spoken unequivocally on this issue. They have done everything in their power to say ‘no.'” Meanwhile, Reverend Eilert Frerichs, spokesman for AFFIRM and disappointed in the decision, called it a stalemate rather than a setback.  He said: “The decision closed the door to any potential witchhunts, and we were terrified that might happen.”

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Eilert Frerichs of AFFIRM from Maclean’s Magazine, May 28, 1984. Photo: Brian Willer

In Part 2, next week, we will explore what happened in 1988, when the 4-year study was concluded: arguably the most explosive year for the United Church in its history.

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