(Editor’s note: in 1974 a Manitoba couple, Chris Vogel and Richard North, were the first in Canada to challenge a ban on recognition of same-sex marriage. They wed at Winnipeg’s Unitarian Universalist Church, but were denied the right to register the marriage with Manitoba’s Vital Statistics Agency. As late as 1999 the Commons voted 216 to 55 to define marriage as union between a man and woman. On April 20, 2011 Blacklock’s publisher Holly Doan interviewed the couple in Winnipeg. Following is a transcription of Mr. Vogel’s remarks)
We met in the summer of 1972, in the one gay bar there was at that time in Winnipeg. Rich asked me over for a drink, and I never let him go.
I didn’t contemplate the likelihood of getting married because I assumed homosexuals didn’t. Anybody who went to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission with a complaint of discrimination was turned away, on the grounds that sexual orientation was not written in the Human Rights Act. It wasn’t there, and therefore was not covered.
In those days, in the 1970s and 80s, the prevailing sense among the public – and even those who were homosexual – was not to discuss it. We’d all been brought up with this being a very deep social taboo. The word was so difficult to say, many people choked on it.
Even media preferred not to publish any stories about homosexuals. They didn’t like to use the word. And politicians never wanted to expend any political capital legislating equality for an unpopular minority.
We were in love, we were living together. When we sought legal advice, we were told there was no legal reason in either provincial or federal law why we couldn’t marry. So, we went ahead to see if we could have a legal wedding. It turned out the province wouldn’t register it, and we went to court to try to force it. That was in 1974. The case was dismissed.
You’re either equal or you’re not. It was very evident we weren’t, and unless we did something we’d stay that way. We paid for spousal benefits in the same way everybody else paid for them, but we couldn’t receive any benefits because they wouldn’t acknowledge we were spouses.
It got to the point where we asked ourselves, what are we supposed to do now? We knew. There had been discrimination against Catholics and Jews and Blacks and Aboriginals and Ukrainians and the Irish, and it was wrong. Yet if you were homosexual you could be fired, you could be denied an apartment, you could be prohibited from marrying.
I think gay marriage is the most significant social change of the last 20 years. It was a symbolic achievement. All the terrible disasters that were predicted didn’t happen. There was no damage to the family or society or to anybody else. It was about equality.