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Am I, or aren’t I?

our wedding
Above: An event the Canadian government now says never took place.

I woke up this morning to a text message from my husband suggesting I look at the news on same-sex marriage coming out of Canada. “They are a bit concerning,” he said.

Turns out he might not be my husband after all.

Lawyers representing the Canadian Department of Justice are arguing in a Court case that non-residents who married in Canada since 2004 are not legally married if they could not have been married in their country of residence.

Brent and I were married in British Columbia on 25 September 2004.

The case arises out of a peculiarity that those of us who were married in Canada have been aware of for some time: it’s easy enough to go to Canada and get married, but not so easy, when and if the time comes, to get divorced.

Canada’s divorce law carries a one-year residency requirement: to get divorced in Canada, one or both of the parties must have resided for at least 12 months in the province where the divorce is being sought. If you live outside Canada, you are supposed to get divorced in your home country. But that’s of little use if your home country doesn’t recognise your Canadian marriage. Australia, for example.

The case before the Court concerns an unidentified lesbian couple who married in Canada in 2005 and separated in 2009. One of the two lives in Florida, the other in the UK, both places where same-sex marriage is not explicitly recognised. They are seeking a divorce from the Canadian courts (the news reports don’t mention which court the matter is before) and the Canadian government is the respondent in the case.

A submission from the Department of Justice apparently argues that “in order for a marriage to be legally valid under Canadian law, the parties to the marriage must satisfy both the requirements of the place where the marriage is celebrated … and the requirements of the law of domicile of the couple with regard to their legal capacity to marry one another.”

In other words, if you can’t get married in your home country, you can’t get married in Canada either.

The couple are also seeking $30,000 in compensation from the provincial government, for negligent misrepresentation, in the case that their marriage is found to be invalid, which suggests that the government’s response didn’t entirely come out of the blue for their lawyer, like it did for the rest of us. They are reportedly represented by Martha McCarthy, a Canadian barrister who fought the Supreme Court case that legalised same-sex marriage across Canada in 2005.

McCarthy told the Globe and Mail:

It is offensive to their dignity and human rights to suggest they weren’t married or that they have something that is a nullity. It is appalling and outrageous that two levels of government would be taking this position without ever having raised it before, telling anybody it was an issue or doing anything pro-active about it,” she said. “All the while, they were handing out licences to perform marriages across the country to non-resident people.

The response to the news has been one of shock. US sex advice columnist Dan Savage was married in Vancouver in 2005. He has written an extensive blog post on the developments, and is quoted in the Globe and Mail as saying, “When I got out of bed, I was a married man and as soon as I got on my Twitter feed I realized I had been divorced overnight.”

It’s an odd position for the Canadian government to take. The conservatives are currently in power in Canada, but they have said – and Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reiterated today – that they have no plans to revisit the issue. I share Savage’s hopes that “Hopefully this is just one rogue lawyer or two and not policy of Canada’s Conservative government. If it is Canada’s Conservative government then the issue has definitely been re-opened.”

UPDATE, just before posting: Dan Savage has tweeted that the decision appears to have been reversed. No details yet but I’ll add them as they come in.

UPDATE, 06:30 on 14 January: The Canadian Justice Minister has said all same-sex marriages performed in Canada are legally recognised and the government is working to ensure foreign couples married in Canada have access to divorce.

Edited, 08:54 (added quote from Martha McCarthy)

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Equal love


Today marks the sixth anniversary of the passage of the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004, the legislation that enshrined in Australian law the definition of marriage as being between “one man and one woman.” Australia’s DOMA.

The anniversary will be marked by rallies in all the capital cities and a number of regional centres (details), and it’s heartening to see support for equal marriage rights growing in Australia day by day.

Six years ago, when the Howard government introduced, and the Latham opposition immediately supported, this legislation, Brent and I were planning our own wedding, which took place in Canada later that year. I wrote a cranky blog post and very cranky letter to the editor at the time.

Brent and I were the first gay couple we knew to tie the knot. In those days, gay marriage was legal in The Netherlands, Belgium, and a handful of Canadian Provinces. Since then Argentina, the rest of Canada, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and five US States have all legalised same-sex marriage. Finland, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Nepal are all committed to legalisation in the near future, and the subject is being energetically debated in many other countries. Same-sex marriage is a global phenomenon, and an unstoppable force.

I’ve been impressed by the degree to which this has become a political issue during the current election campaign. Julia Gillard has been asked repeatedly to explain her party’s position on same-sex marriage, and she has squibbed it every time. The ALP’s position on same-sex marriage (they’re against it, but for state-based “relationship registries”, as long as there’s no ceremony and no-one uses the ‘m’ word) is unsustainable within a party that claims to be progressive, and the party should adopt a more open-minded position. Unfortunately the ALP is scared witless of the political muscle of the Catholic Church and a few other religious minorities. That’s a disgraceful position for a party that claims to be socially progressive, and it partly explains the haemorrhaging of support to the Greens.

Julia Gillard could articulate a more open position on this issue, without unduly scaring the horses. She could acknowledge that it is an issue, for a start, instead of robotically chanting that ‘one man, one woman’ shibboleth. She could affirm that there will be no change in the short term, but espouse a personal belief that change will come when the nation – and the party – is ready. She could suggest we have a national debate on the issue over the coming term, and to develop a legislative response based on that. She could end the hateful and mean-spirited policy that prevents the issuing of ‘certificates of non-impediment to marry’ for same-sex couples intending marriage overseas. Or she could grow a pair and just say what we all know she, and Penny Wong, and probably most of the ALP party room, believes.

In the meantime the voices for same-sex marriage grow stronger and the arguments against it become ever more ineffective. We will win this – we have justice on our side; and a day will come when my Canadian marriage certificate will be recognised in my own country. In the meantime, my love and admiration goes out to all the hard-working queers who are keeping this issue on the agenda, organising the rallies, writing the petitions, fighting the good fight for equality and human rights.

See you at the rally.

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Blue Mosque sketch

I am sitting on the roof terrace of the Side Hotel in Istanbul, eating breakfast, alone. The morning sun is hot on my back and there are beads of sweat on my forehead, although it’s only 8 a.m. The bright light makes me squint as I look out at the domes and minarets of Sultanahmet Camii (the ‘Blue Mosque’) to my right and the calm waters of the Sea of Marmara to my left.

The sky is full of birds – big silver gulls, calling and squawking and stealing food from the breakfast plates; crows, black and grey feathers and beaks, murderously red-eyed; and little swifts diving and weaving through the sky like kids at play. The sounds of the seabirds and the smell of the water remind me that this is a port town.

A gull has stolen a piece of bread from someone’s plate, and on an adjacent rooftop an all-in battle is being pitched over it. These birds are much bigger than the gulls in Australia; they seem to be about a metre from wingtip to tip, with long yellow beaks and big heavy bodies. One of the big gulls has forced another down onto the roof tiles with its foot and inserted its big yellow beak into the unfortunate one’s craw, trying to extract a morsel of already-swallowed food. Judging by the racket this is not a painless procedure, but it’s over quickly enough and the defeated one flies away.

Apart from the birds, and the other diners, and the millions of strangers around me in this big, noisy city, I am alone. Brent has taken a taxi to the airport and by now he’s in the air, headed for home. We said our tearful goodbyes on the doorstep this morning and I went back to my room to think about what lies ahead. The next three weeks are my own, as I get to stay in the dream world of this summer holiday while he returns to the cold and dark and drudgery of work. We have travelled well together here, as we do everywhere our lives take us, and while I have a great fondness for solitude and while I know I enjoy these next few weeks, I will feel his absence upon me until we’re back together.

Later today I will fly to Athens, and then Thessaloniki, where I plan to spend five days in a hotel by the beach, enjoying the sunshine and the solitude, catching up on some reading and, hopefully, some writing. I have Hemingway to keep me company and to inspire me.

Image above: sketch of Sultanahmet Camii, from the rooftop of the Side Hotel, 17 June 2007 – made when we stayed here three years ago.

An earlier version of this post referred to the Blue Mosque as Topkapı Sarayı, which is hopelessly incorrect. I can only blame the lack of coffee.

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Merhaba Damascus

After a long flight and in a very sleep deprived state, Brent and I arrived in Damascus this afternoon. Between the jet-lag and the endless social commitments of the London leg of our trip, I think I’ve been averaging abut 4-5 hours of sleep a night and, not surprisingly, it hasn’t been enough. Whether that will change in the next few days, I can’t yet say.

Stepping off a plane into a new and very foreign country is never an easy task, and doing so when your body is screaming for sleep is setting yourself a special degree of difficulty. We had a small mix-up with what I thought was the exchange office, but which turned out to be the place where you pay for your visa if you don’t have one. I had already obtained my visa, but the man happily took my money anyway. It took a few minutes to sort it out but it was resolved smilingly. A note to the operators of this facility, if they’re reading: the sign that says “Foreign Exchange” has a tendency to confuse first-time visitors into thinking that this is the Foreign Exchange office.

If the sound of London is the sound of jackhammers, then Damascus’ auditory accompaniment is the atonal orchestra of car horns that punctuates every waking moment. Fortunately our hotel is on a quiet street so it’s a symphony heard from afar, but it rises and falls in cadence and intensity as thousands of drivers navigate the madness of Damascus’ chaotic streets. Then there is the call to prayer, mercifully subdued as the nearest mosque is, apparently, a little way away.

After getting to our hotel, we decided that, despite our exhaustion, we’d take a brief turn around the neighbourhood to get a sense of where we are. We were both experiencing a bit of culture shock, Brent especially so because he’s never really travelled beyond the first world, and the airport madness, the white-knuckle taxi ride, the ramshackle buildings, the noise and crowds and incomprehensible language got to us both. Stepping onto the street, you get back to the human scale of things and realise that you’re not in such a foreign place after all.

Our brief neighbourhood ramble took us to the gates of the old city and the start of the al-Hamidiyya souq, Damascus’ famous sprawling labyrinth of shops and stalls selling everything from carpets to gold jewellery to everyday household stuff like sink plungers and cooking pots. We spent a couple of hours wandering (and getting lost), had an ice cream and bought some soap. Big spenders.

Tomorrow we’ll start our visit in earnest and go in search of some of the sights around town, and figure out how to get to Bosra, which we’ll probably do on Wednesday. But tonight we sleep.

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Ten years to the second since …

Ten years to the second since I met my husband. ♡♡♡

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