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More than a million people attended Toronto's Pride parade on Sun., July 4. (Adrien Veczan/The Canadian Press)
More than a million people attended Toronto's Pride parade on Sun., July 4. (Adrien Veczan/The Canadian Press)

Expat Canadians on same-sex marriage in the U.S.: ‘I am hopeful for real change’ Add to ...

These opinions come from a group of Canadians now living in the United States who were part of The Globe’s expat project during the U.S. election. Here, they give their views on same-sex marriage and how the issue resonates in their communities.

Having lived in Augusta, Ga., for three years, I have been working on my faith in other humans that when they encounter me, or me with my partner Jessica, that they will treat us with as equal respect and dignity as everyone else.

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What I have found by being open, and coming out to co-workers, friends, and even strangers, is that most of the time, people are either vocally supportive or just treat us the same as everybody else. The number of times that we have been stared at or made under the breath disparaging comments against is actually quite minimal in comparison to the number of times that we have been met with kindness. I think this says a lot for the South, and for the possibility of a real shift in mentality around it. Jessica’s little sister is 14, and she came to the Pride parade with us and is a vocal supporter with all of her friends. She tells us sometimes about anti-gay remarks that her classmates make, but most of the time it is met with her and others standing up against it. Because of her, and because I have chosen to believe the best in people, I am hopeful for real change in not only this community but every community across the country.

I grew up in small town Ontario, where just 10 years ago “that’s so gay” was the most common phrase to comment on anything you didn’t like in high school. One of my closest friends was openly gay in high school (while I was as closeted it gets!) and was harassed frequently because of it. The legalization of same-sex marriage has made a big difference in Canada because of the open and public discussion it provoked. I am very hopeful that the same will occur here.

Leah Taylor from Woodville, Ont., is now living in Augusta, Ga.

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When I lived in Canada, I thought then, as I think now, that the most effective public policy solution would be to separate civil marriage and religious marriage. But I haven’t seen any political will to do that in any government anywhere.

I’m actually a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as Mormons). Our doctrine is that same-sex marriage is not part of God’s plan. And that came to the fore in 2008, when many members of the church in California and elsewhere, participated in the Prop. 8 campaign. I moved to California just a week before the election, but I confess, had I been there earlier, and had I been in the church meetings where people were signing up volunteers to wave signs on street corners and donate to the campaign, I would have been very uncomfortable.

You see, many members of my extended family are gay or lesbian. At least one died in the initial AIDS epidemic; another was “gay-bashed” to death. And all of them are just people to me.

Our societies, in both the U.S. and Canada, are pluralistic democracies, with freedom of religion. That means that while I and many others may think that God is of one mind regarding this matter, we cannot and should not impose our views on those who either think God is of another mind, or who don’t believe in God at all. I am fully in favour of implementing same-sex marriage here in the U.S., and I hope the Supreme Court decides accordingly.

We just moved to Phoenix in December and most of those we’ve met have been at church, and most of those people are still decidedly against legalizing same-sex marriage. Many people, especially religious people, seem to think that our laws should reflect what people “should” do. But public policy should reflect what people actually do. People who are gay or lesbian shouldn’t feel like they have to be single and/or celibate, or have to fake their way through an opposite-sex marriage.

Robert Slaven from Yellowknife is now living in Phoenix.

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We’re ground zero for this fight. My wife works with one of the Prop. 8 plaintiffs at a local health club. I’ve got almost as many gay friends as straight ones, some are married, some are divorced, some are looking for Mr. Right and some are looking for Mr. Right Now. They’re all awesome and infuriating and weird and talented and deserving of respect and all those crazy civil rights we take for granted – just like my straight friends.

Yes, more people voted for Prop. 8 than against. Take that vote again today, I think we’d have a different result. The idea of gay marriage just seems so normal it’s shocking when you run into anyone who doesn’t support it, and in the insulated world of Hollywood, that rarely happens. Even the few Republicans who work here are exposed to so many out gay and lesbians that the idea of telling them they’re not equal just seems strange and unjustifiable.

Of course, it’s not all sweetness and light. I was running the other day in our rapidly gentrifying and child-friendly ‘hood and came across one of those “Watch the Road – Children Playing” signs on a lawn. On the next one, someone had slapped a homemade bumper sticker that said: “Run ‘em Down – Gay men take back your neighborhood!” Probably a hate crime in Canada, but just another First-Amendment-protected sunny day here in Hollywood.

Collin Friesen from Winnipeg is now living in Los Angeles

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I live in Washington, D.C., in a vibrant, diverse community and part of the city where, should I venture a guess, the vast majority of our community would hold very similar views on a whole range of social issues, including respect for same-sex marriage rights, equality, and likely even political affiliation. That said, there have been reports of hate crimes and homophobic slurs in recent years, and the gravity of these incidents and the discrimination that still exists, even in a relatively progressive part of the city, cannot be ignored.

I do, however, feel that in my circle of neighbours, friends and community, my family exists in a little bubble. We take for granted that everyone we come into contact with shares our views on equality and same-sex marriage rights, and as a Canadian, I am heartened that this is an issue that we all stand behind and support. On this issue, my world in Washington, D.C., very closely resembles my reality of community in Toronto. When I leave our safe bubble, however, I am struck by the fact that while intolerance and homophobia are fortunately the exception in my neighbourhood, this is most certainly not the case in many other parts of the United States, and often just a few miles away from our neighbourhood. Thankfully, as the intolerance is starting to die off, it seems as though my “bubble” is fast becoming the norm.

Jennifer Khurana from Toronto is now living in Washington, D.C.

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I have always been a supporter of same-sex marriage – I know this is from my Canadian heritage as well as from growing up in a family that promoted social equality. While it can be disheartening to hear opposing views about equality, I am glad to see that same-sex marriage is gaining momentum. I never understood why others care so much that gay and lesbian couples want to marry. If you don’t support it, don’t do it. But why care if people you don’t even know get married?

Massachusetts, where I live, was the first U.S. state to legalize same-sex marriage. I live in a particularly liberal area of the state so there isn’t much hubbub about it. We just hope the momentum continues and that whomever wants to get married can go ahead and do it.

Interestingly, while same-sex marriage is gaining momentum, to many people, traditional marriage is almost becoming passé. Many common-law couples that I know debate whether they should get married or happily remain common-law. The key is choice, though. In my opinion, everyone should be able to choose to marry their partner or not, based on what is right for them.

Colleen Pendergast from Edmonton is now living in Nantucket, Mass.

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The area I live in is pretty diverse – the state’s capital is here, there are universities around and a very large rural component. The voting population typically elects members of the GOP. I don’t think it would be unfair to say this part of the state is mainly conservative with a significant middle-of-the-road component.

That being said, the general philosophy tends to be – “I’m not going to get into your business, so don’t get into mine.” I think that is a large reason why same-sex marriage hasn’t been an important issue politically. However, the fact is that Pennsylvania bans same-sex marriage and has no state laws mandating the protection of the LGBT community.

My personal experience has been that people generally shrug their shoulders and say something like, “It doesn’t affect me so I don’t care.”

Brian Monkman from Oakville, Ont., is now living in Mechanicsburg, Penn.

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Yes, clearly attitudes have changed.  For those who are frustrated by how long it can take for truly significant change to happen in a democracy, it has been something to watch this debate shift in the United States.  During the elections in 2004, there was a motivated and organized effort to support state-level initiatives that enhanced or clarified the restrictions of legal marriage exclusively for heterosexuals.  George Bush even talked about a constitutional amendment to permanently enshrine the basic tenants of DOMA.  Fast forward barely eight years and the people making those arguments are way back on their heels while supporters of expanding legal marriage to include same-sex unions clearly have greater confidence and a feeling that they are about to make history.

My views on this issue are informed by my time in Ottawa in the late-1990s when this debate was beginning in earnest in Canada.  I was working on Parliament Hill at the time and renting a room from two gay fraternity brothers.  Parliament established the Law Commission of Canada to consider government's role in regulating people's most intimate relationships.  The Law Commission's report was titled Beyond Conjugality (eventually completed in 2001).  I agreed with most of the conclusions of the report.  However, the report continued to support keeping civil "marriage" on the books, in large part, because legal marriages have become so integrated into the legal framework of so much of civil society.

We should maintain civil unions (and broadly define them among consensual adults with demonstrable ties to each other) and keep marriage in the personal/spiritual realm where the eternal union of souls is defined, first and foremost, by the love and faith that true marriage entails.

Ashley O'Kurley from Alberta is now living in Miami

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I live in San Francisco, so if I were to just look inside our little liberal bubble, I'd say the change has been hard to see.  Support for same-sex marriage has long been widespread and pretty overt.

What I have noticed is a steady change in how same-sex marriages are portrayed in the mainstream media.  We're seeing more openly gay celebrities talking about their marriages (e.g., Ellen Degeneres and Portia deRossi) and more shows that feature healthy same-sex marriages (Modern Family is a great example).  I think that's helped many Americans feel comfortable that gay people are very much like the rest of us, rather than a special group of people with very distinct lifestyles.

Mainstream political support has helped immensely too.  When the President and Vice-President say that they support same-sex marriage, I think that really helps tip the scales.

Overall, I think it's hard to point to a single incident that created the dramatic shift in public perception.  It's been a slow and long tide change that seems to have finally reached a tipping point.  About time.

Sri Artham from Toronto is now living in San Francisco

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