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Married in Canada.

My partner, Brian, and I are celebrating our 20th wedding anniversary this year. We married in the Metropolitan Community Church in 1985 with a "Holy Union." We were married legally two years ago, when same-sex marriage became legal in several Canadian provinces. Our friends Katherine and Chuck, the parents of my godson Michael and goddaughter Kate, were our witnesses as we became the first gay couple in history to marry in a United Church of Canada. Still, we count our Holy Union as our wedding day; in 1985 we had no intention of waiting for the laws to catch up with our marriage.

This summer, though, they finally did. On July 20 Canada's acting head of state signed into law Bill C-38, which changes the legal definition of marriage from "a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others" to "two persons."

In the preceding months the tone from the religious and political right had become increasingly shrill and desperate. They were losing the battle to make gay marriage a "moral issue" about "family values." The Canadian people, represented by the Liberal Party of Canada, saw the right of gays and lesbians to marry as an issue of equal human rights, not morals. What's more, gays and lesbians weren't asking for "acceptance" or even "tolerance." We were altering the legal landscape itself.

On the night the bill was passed, Brian and I watched with wonder the spectacle of right-wing Christian politicians--who had previously worn their arrogant homophobia like biblical armor--begging for the right to continue denying gays and lesbians full equality under Canadian law. They snapped their jaws like confused monsters magically deprived of their prey.

But in the end it wasn't magic, it was just decency and common sense--very Canadian virtues. The Conservative Party of Canada, with its fundamentalist base, has been sent a message: Canada has no wish to become a direct-to-video version of the United States under George W. Bush. We stand in solidarity with American gays and lesbians. We welcome them to marry here. It's likely that our new law will draw our communities together even as it polarizes Canada and the United States politically.

The religious right was correct on one point: Same-sex marriage really is about "family values," only not the way they mean. It's about raising children in a country where gays and lesbians are fully part of their families, where prejudice and cruelty are called to account. It's about knowing that "the true north strong and free" means strength and freedom for everyone.

RELATED ARTICLE: Ten tips for getting married in Canada.

1 Know the local laws. Specific license requirements vary from province to province. Most provinces have their own Web sites.

2 Make ceremony arrangements ahead of time. Ceremonies can be performed by a willing religious organization or a judge or justice of the peace.

3 If you've had a divorce in the United States, make sure to have your divorce papers reviewed by a Canadian family lawyer.

4 Get your passport in order, and give family and friends enough notice to do the same. You might not need it, but it's best to play it safe.

5 Check the weather. Temperatures in Canada routinely drop below -20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and climb into the 90s in the summer.

6 On arrival, go to the city or town clerk's office and pay the marriage license fee, which will vary from province to province.

7 Check to see that you and your partner are not listed as bride and groom on the license.

8 Don't take no for an answer. Report any marriage commissioners who refuse to marry you and your partner.

9 Spend your tourist dollars at gay-friendly businesses.

10 Share your story with straight Americans. It will be harder for them to oppose same-sex marriage when they know a gay couple who is happily married.--Angie J. Han

Rowe is a Canadian author, journalist, and essayist.
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Title Annotation:First Person: Michael Rowe
Author:Rowe, Michael
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 30, 2005
Words:660
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