Five years ago, Rev. Brent Hawkes wore a bullet-proof vest to perform Canada's first same-sex marriages while armed police guarded his Toronto church.
Yesterday, he arrived at city hall to get his own marriage licence to wed long-time partner John Sproule. No protective vest, no armed police -- but Mayor David Miller in the rotunda, smiling broadly and applauding him and Mr. Sproule as, hand in hand, they approached the marriage clerk's desk.
"For me, it's a symbol of where we are as a city," Mr. Miller said.
For Mr. Hawkes, senior pastor at the city's gay Metropolitan Community Church, much has happened since Jan. 14, 2001, when he used an ancient religious rite called the publishing of banns to join two couples in matrimony.
Nine provincial court decisions and a Supreme Court of Canada ruling striking down the man-woman definition as unconstitutional. A parliamentary debate and passage of a law defining marriage instead as the lawful union of two persons. And an estimate by Egale, the national homosexual rights advocacy organization, that between 5,000 and 10,000 same-sex marriages have been performed in Canada.
Mr. Hawkes, 58, and Mr. Sproule, 51, began dating 25 years ago on Valentine's Day -- or, as many in the gay community call it, Freedom to Marry Day -- when the clergyman was on a hunger strike to protest against the notorious police raids on Toronto's bath houses.
"Nobody would have thought [same-sex marriage]possible back then," said Mr. Sproule, a computer programmer. "To see so much change in 25 years, we feel very proud."
But with Canada's new Conservative government vowing to hold a fresh vote in Parliament on the definition of marriage, Mr. Hawkes, who has performed hundreds of same-sex weddings in his church, warned against complacency in the homosexual community.
"We have to solidify gains we've won, and we have to work hard."
He said there remains a pressing need for public education in schools and among various ethnic communities and conservative religious groups -- not with the aim of asking people to accept homosexuality but with the aim of asking them to tolerate it.
He recalled that the U.S. Christian right shipped millions of dollars across the border to fund the last campaign to defend the man-woman definition of marriage.
"We spent pennies for every dollar they spent. We can't match their money."
And he said if the tone of the next debate is bitter and hostile it will create fear among Canada's homosexuals.
At the same time, one of Canada's leading legal scholars on gender and sexual equality issues, the University of Toronto's Brenda Cossman, warned that if Parliament votes to throw out the two-persons definition of marriage without using the constitutional override, the country will be thrown into legal chaos.
She said some provinces will be left in the quandary of having to decide whether to follow Parliament's new definition or the rulings of their own appeal courts that the man-woman definition is unconstitutional.
She said a whole new cycle of court challenges will consume millions of dollars in public money, take five years to wend their way to the Supreme Court and result in the same decision as before: Either Parliament uses the notwithstanding clause -- which Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said he won't do and which Parliament has never used -- or same-sex marriage has to stand.
Prof. Cossman suggested maybe that is Mr. Harper's goal: to satisfy his social conservative supporters that he's done something, but to say at the end, "We tried, but those damn courts. . . ."