SPECIAL REPORT

‘WHY SHOULD WE HAVE TO CALL IT SOMETHING ELSE?’

BRIAN BERGMAN September 1 2003
SPECIAL REPORT

‘WHY SHOULD WE HAVE TO CALL IT SOMETHING ELSE?’

BRIAN BERGMAN September 1 2003

‘WHY SHOULD WE HAVE TO CALL IT SOMETHING ELSE?’

SPECIAL REPORT

Ronald Siegmund and Robert Lawrence went to an Alberta registry office in downtown Calgary in mid-August with a simple request: could they please apply for a marriage licence? Siegmund, 45, and Lawrence, 46, who have lived together as a couple for 23 years, knew from the get-go what the answer would be. With television cameras in tow, they crossed the street, holding hands, and entered the offices of the Alberta Human Rights Commission, where they promptly lodged a complaint, claiming they had just been discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation.

The following evening, sitting at the dining room table in their suburban Calgary home, the two men described the very different respons-

es their brush with celebrity generated. Siegmund, an adult educator at a private college, bubbled with enthusiasm about the positive feedback he got from his employer, co-workers and students, as well as family members and friends who called from as far afield as Yukon. Lawrence, a residential care worker who deals with people with developmental disabilities, was far more subdued. Earlier in the day, at a neighbourhood grocery store, an elderly man had confronted him. “He recognized me from the TV,” said Lawrence. “He spat on me and called me a faggot.”

The flat inflection of Lawrence’s voice speaks volumes. Gay bashing is something the couple have long endured. Last year, Lawrence, a provincial employee, launched a Segal challenge that helped con-

vince the Alberta government to extend survivor pension benefits to same-sex partners. For months afterwards, says Lawrence, he and Siegmund received death threats. “You’d pick up your voice mail," recalls Lawrence, “and there would be a message saying, ‘you fucking faggot, I’m going to kill you.’ ” Undaunted, the couple decided it was time to take another public stance, this time in support of gay marriage. Alberta-born and bred, they are particularly irked at Premier Ralph Klein’s vow that, if Ottawa presses ahead on legalizing same-sex marriages, he’ll invoke the Constitution’s so-called notwithstanding clause to exempt his province. “What are we supposed to do?” says Siegmund. “Move to

another province so we can get married? No way. I grew up here. I like it here. It’s home.” Both men believe that if their reasons for wanting to get married were properly understood, the vast majority of Canadians would support them. It has to do with ensuring they have the same legal status as heterosexual spouses, including full pension and health-care benefits as well as a say in medical decisions should one of them become incapable of giving informed consent for treatment. The latter is no idle concern; in the past, when either Lawrence or Siegmund was hospitalized, healthcare professionals would sometimes order the healthy partner to leave the room because he was not related. “That’s just not right,” says Sieg-

mund. “I want Robert making decisions for me if I’m critically ill. That’s something you do for the person you love and care about.” Couldn’t such issues be dealt with short of changing the traditional definition of marriage—perhaps by recognizing same-sex unions by another name? “Yes,” says Siegmund, “but why should we have to cal! it something else? It’s demeaning.” As for moral objections to gay marriage raised by some clerics, why is that an issue, he asks, if religious organizations are not forced to sanction any union they disapprove of? “I don’t know why people feel so threatened,” says Siegmund. “Nothing we are asking for is going to change anything for anyone else. I really don’t see this as a bad thing or such a big deal.”

BRIAN BERGMAN

UNES OF DISAGREEMENT

WHO’S AGAINST AND WHO’S FOR:

THE TWO SIDES IN THE GAY MARRIAGE DEBATE HAVE DISTINCT PROFILES

SEGMENTS OF THE POPULATION MORE LIKELY TO OPPOSE SAME-SEX MARRIAGE ARE: aged 55 and up (63%), men (54%), lacking high-schooi diplomas (66%), and earning less than $30,000 anuaily (55%).

LESS LIKELY TO OPPOSE IT ARE: aged 18-34 (34%), women (44%), university grads (36%), and earning more than $60,000 (42%).

ROMAN CATHOLIC VIEWS-50% for, 48% opposed-mirror the national average (49% pro and con).