Gay Rights, Canada You Surprised Me

I grew up in Niagara Falls, Canada, the honeymoon capital of the world–now I live in San Francisco, the gay Jerusalem. While I spent my teenaged summers selling souvenirs to honeymooners, marriage wasn’t something I thought I could participate in directly, until last Friday.

The top Ontario court ruled that gay and lesbian couples must be allowed to marry. With this decision, Canada becomes the second country in the world to marry same-sex couples. I’ve lived in the United States for 14 years, and this news took me by surprise. America is the birthplace of the civil rights movement, after all; it?s where the push for gay and lesbian rights started. But somehow it’s legally flourished in Canada. This made me rethink the relationship between the countries.

Today people think lesbian and gay Americans have all kinds of rights, but that’s not actually the way it is. In most of the US, gay people can be fired or lose their housing through permissible discrimination. And we can’t serve honestly in the military or even legally have sex in many of the US states. The closest anything comes to marriage here is Vermont’s kind of “separate but equal” status for same-sex couples. But people see a lesbian wedding on Friends and think we all must be able to get married. If it’s on TV it must be real, right? After all we have Rosie, and Ellen, and Ikea ads aimed at us, we must be powerful.

And while gay people already can’t get married anywhere in the US, a democrat recently introduced a constitutional amendment to Congress just to make sure. But hey, we’re going to get a cable TV channel to call our own soon, so no worries. America was founded, originally, on property rights. And any capitalist or expressive aspect of being gay has made incredible headway.

America, ironically, has this great tradition of individual rights, which makes it’s neglect of gay legal rights at the national level all the more surprising. It’s got a culture that celebrates the individual and individual expression. It’s a place where you can kick up your heels a little.

Whenever I have visited Toronto, since moving to the States, I’ve felt like the gay people I see are less out — more closeted. But now I realize that it’s not because of their concern for their legal status. They’re just being Canadian. Understated.

Canada was founded on the idea of peace, order and good government rather than life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Canadians are very proud of the value we place on tolerance. Everyone should be welcome and get along, just as long as you don’t kick up too much of a fuss. Standing out is not a real Canadian idea. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t the place where drag queens got fed up with police harassment in 1969, rioted, and started the gay rights movement. Canada doesn’t have the same strong history of civil disobedience as the US. But neither does it rely on the marketplace to take care of government or civic rights. So Canada has taken these ideas that individualistic Americans started and absorbed them into broad legal protections on a human rights basis.

The winning attorney cited a study that showed that last year over 65% of Canadians approved of marriage for gay and lesbian Canadians. She said that the decision shows that, “the law is keeping up with the culture.” But the culture in Canada has changed, in part, because of Stonewall, and ACT UP and Rosie and Will & Grace and the Ikea ads.

This historic decision leaves me confused. What does it mean to live in the United States? As a Canadian? As a lesbian? As someone who wants cultural freedom and legal protection. I love both countries. I choose to live here in the United States. But where will I honeymoon?