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Manitoba Gay and Lesbian Archives: Gay Rights

Gay Rights

Chris Vogel

Richard North

As the infrastructure of an organized and operationally successful gay community formed in the mid-1970s, individuals began challenging for specific rights. Two gay men, Chris Vogel (age 22) and Richard North (age 26) were married in a Unitarian Church by Reverend Norman Naylor on February 11, 1974. Their attempt to be married was only the second time in Canadian history that a gay couple sought sanction for their relationship. Shortly after, the Provincial Secretary refused to register their marriage. Vogel and North proceeded to take the provincial government to court over the matter, but the court ruled that the terms of common law defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman. The general lack of recognition of homosexuals and their needs for rights both politically and socially became pronounced with attempts at same-sex marriage and the restrictions to social organizations. Vogel and North continued to agitate for rights throughout the 1980s. In 1982 Vogel filed a human rights complaint against the province of Manitoba for refusing to provide his partner with spousal benefits. This complaint was then rejected due to then-current spousal rights only applying on a gender basis, not a sexual preference basis. North protested the Manitoba Human Rights Code and its lack of sexual orientation protection by undergoing a 59 day hunger strike on March 8th, 1985. However the NDP government, led by Howard Pauley, was not swayed. Thirteen years after the initial grievance was filed, on June 15, 1995, the Manitoba Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Vogel and North allowing for same-sex spousal benefits.

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In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of same-sex spousal benefits, which were commonly associated with marriage.  However, this ruling stopped short of granting full legal status to same-sex marriage.  The first provincial Court of Appeal to challenge the definition of marriage was in Ontario in 2003, where the case of Halpern v. Canada resulted in the first legal marriage of a gay couple.  The remaining provinces followed suit, leading to the eventual passage of federal Bill C-38 (Civil Marriage Act) on July 19, 2005, granting full rights to same-sex couples throughout Canada.  Manitoba’s same-sex marriage act was passed into law on September 16, 2004, making Manitoba the fifth province to do so.  Despite the passing of the federal same-sex marriage bill into legislation, various attempts have been made to challenge the bill in Parliament.  Alberta produced the largest opposition to the legislation however, becoming the last province to enact the law on July 20, 2005.

Manitoba Human Rights Code Card of Thanks

As an example of ostracization by the straight business community at the time, Derksen Printers Ltd. of Steinbach, Manitoba refused to publish an educational manual entitled Understanding Homosexuality, created by Gays for Equality. This refusal by Derksen however was an action deemed legal as the Human Rights Code of Manitoba did not recognize discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation at that time. Pickets and formal complaints were organized by GFE members and other members of the gay community against Derksen as well as the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Tribune for their refusal to publish advertisements for GFE and their counseling services and resources. By 1987, Manitoba added sexual orientation to the human rights code. In 1998, long-serving Winnipeg City Councilor Glen Murray became the first openly gay mayor of a large North American city. His open sexuality and commitment to gay causes throughout his time in local politics made him a widely popular figure in the gay community.

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