U.S. customs says Canadian gay couple not a family
September 19 2003 12:00 AM ET
Canada's first legally married gay couple said they were refused entry into the United States after a U.S. customs official at the Toronto airport wouldn't accept their customs clearance form stating that they are a family, the Canadian Press reports. Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell said they abandoned their trip to Georgia because the customs official insisted that they fill out individual forms as single people. After complaining to a customs supervisor, Bourassa said, the couple were told that they wouldn't be allowed into the United States as a family because the country doesn't recognize same-sex marriages. "When we realized we weren't going to be allowed into the country, we had to make a real hard decision," Bourassa said. "We could have filled out separate forms, but how much of your dignity do you want to have chipped away? We feel we had an affront to our dignity, so we decided to go back home."
Bourassa said he and Varnell were heading to Braselton, Ga., to speak at a human rights conference featuring Coretta Scott King, the widow of human rights activist Martin Luther King Jr. Bourassa, who works full-time as an advocate for same-sex marriage, and Varnell, a banking manager, were married in 2001, before the Ontario court of appeal ruled--in June of this year--that same-sex couples can legally marry. Their 2001 ceremony was then recognized as a legal union in the province in light of the court decision.
The couple's lawyer, Doug Elliott, said he spoke to Foreign Affairs minister Bill Graham early Thursday and that Graham advised him to deal with Deputy Prime Minister John Manley because he would have more authority over border issues. Elliott said that although the U.S. customs official was enforcing American law by not allowing Bourassa and Varnell into the United States, "he was doing it on Canadian soil. We can't force the U.S. to change its laws on same-sex marriage, but we can insist that Canadian citizens be treated with respect, that the Canadian law regarding family recognition gets respected when it comes to how Canadians treat their families." Elliott said he's also investigating whether any legal action can be undertaken on his clients' behalf against the governments.