25 March 2013

Jane Eaton Hamilton: No Legal Impediment

The Ms. Foundation for Women is celebrating Women’s History Month with a blog carnival featuring the voices and profiles of women across the country. This Month of Action is generously supported by our friends in Seattle. 

By Jane Eaton Hamilton

In June 2003, my friend Tanya and I sidled up to the counter at London Drugs, where marriage certificates were sold, and requested applications. The whole business of a drug store was going on behind us; chatter, tills, merchandise moving over beeping scanners, money changing hands. Drugs were being dispensed. But my heart was thumping hard like I was about to get caught doing something illegal.

Name of bride. Well, that one was easy, at least. My beloved, Joy, was “butchier,” so I could be, for legal purposes, whatever she wasn't.

Three years earlier, Joy and I had been denied our first marriage license – the prerequisite to becoming litigants in Canada's same-sex marriage case.

Although our case was federal (because in Canada, who can marry whom is federal jurisdiction), we had slowly wound our way toward the Supreme Court of Canada by moving up provincial channels. We had already lost at trial in the British Columbia Supreme Court, and then won upon appeal in British Columbia Appellate Court. The feds were ordered to change the law but had been given 15 months to implement the change.

Then an amazing thing happened in Ontario's lower court: The lawyers won their arm of our case, and their remedy wasn't delayed. According to the courts, Canadian gays and lesbians could wed immediately.

A federal law had been overturned. Technically, this meant that same-sex marriage was legal everywhere, which is what led us to reapply for marriage licenses in British Columbia.

I put myself down as bride. And beside me, Tanya put herself down as bride. Then we conferred a bit about how to list our lovers: Grooms? Cross that out and leave it blank? Amend it to bride? Bride One and Bride Two? We settled for making the two other women brides and handed the forms to the greasy-haired boy behind the counter.

He ran his hand through his hair. He moved his weight from one foot to another foot. His cheeks were fire red, and his neck was almost purple. His eyes sidling up from the papers to catch a glimpse of us, he said, "So, let me get this straight, you two wanna marry each other?"

“No, our partners.”

He lifted his head, as if these partners were fictions. "I'm not issuing you marriage licenses. You hafta be a man and a woman, and you're, like, not."

We explained that a federal law had just changed.

"I'm callin' somebody," he said. And then, a minute later: "Okay, so we're denyin' this. My supervisor says I, like, don't hafta."

Tanya and I turned to leave.

"Hey!" he called out.

We turned back.

"So, like, listen. If I gave you marriage licenses… Can I ask you? What would you do with them, anyhow?"

I resisted telling him the rude place I might want to stick mine if I hadn't needed it for other purposes. But what we really would have done with them is precisely what we did with the ones issued in Ontario a mere couple weeks later: We got hitched.

Jane Eaton Hamilton is the author of several books, most recently the short fiction book "Hunger." Her writing has appeared in the NY Times, Seventeen, Macleans, the Globe and Mail, En Route and other magazines, and she has been the recipient of many awards, including first prize in the CBC Literary Award. She writes in Vancouver, BC.

Photo credit: Luna Nordin. 

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