Two Canadian men were married Tuesday in the country's first wedding of a same-sex couple, which took place just hours after an Ontario appeals court ruled that Canada's ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The appeals panel declared the current legal definition of marriage invalid and ordered Toronto's city clerk to issue marriage licenses to the same-sex couples involved in the case. Shortly afterward, Michael Leshner and Michael Stark were wed in a civil ceremony witnessed by Leshner's 90-year-old mother and about 50 friends and observers, most of them from the news media. "We're blissfully happy," said Leshner, a Toronto lawyer, after exchanging rings with his partner of 22 years and offering a champagne toast outside the courthouse.
The appeals court ruling is the latest in a series of decisions against the federal ban, increasing pressure on Prime Minister Jean Chretien's government to change the law or let the ruling stand. The government can appeal Tuesday's decision to Canada's supreme court, an option Chretien said the government would have to study further before deciding.
Leshner said it would be impossible for Canada to return to the limited definition of marriage regardless of whether the government appeals. "The argument's over," he said. "No more political discussion, we've won.... It's a great day for Canada."
Gay rights advocates are urging the government to accept the decision. "Stop the appeals, stop the obstruction, stop the waste of taxpayers' dollars in fighting inequality," said Svend Robinson, an openly gay lawmaker for the New Democratic Party who has pushed for expanding the federal definition of marriage. "I really can't believe that we've reached this day. For the first time in our country's history, gay and lesbian people are actually marrying."
A parliament committee is studying the matter, and opinion polls indicate a slight majority of Canadians favor legalizing marriages between same-sex couples. Heritage minister Sheila Copps said Tuesday that it was time to change the marriage definition to reflect modern social mores: "When you're speaking about equality, you're talking about allowing people to exercise all rights under the law, including all rights that are available to all others."