An Equal Marriage Retrospect: A Story in “Two Voices”

Julie and Dawn are one of six couples who, in 1999, joined a Canadian Charter legal challenge seeking the right to marry. In 2003, the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled the Civil Marriage Act unconstitutional, striking down the law and allowing same-sex couples to marry immediately; we married in June of 2003 in anticipation of a Supreme Court challenge. Canada followed suite and became the forth country in the world to legalize marriage in 2005. Almost fifteen years past provides an occasion to look at the ‘why’ behind equal marriage and to ask what has been accomplished, and what has been lost – personally, as well as at a community level and at a structural level. We also have the opportunity to pause and consider: where to from here? It is easy to say ‘we have arrived’ – but have we? As a community, and personally, what sacrifices has marriage exacted and what opportunities has it afforded? Gaining this right is both success and failure.

Our journey of understanding same-sex marriage has been a complicated one.

Julie: I thought marriage would provide me a measure of equality and recognition; however, 10 years later, there is still invisibility and ‘othering’. At a personal level I know that marriage brought me comfort and commitment, but I am not sure that it destabilized oppression. The reasons why I married still hold true: but, did marriage change things that I identified as important 10 years ago? Am I more included? I cannot say that I am. Are queers more included in general? I cannot say that they are.

Dawn: My entry into this trajectory of social change was as marriage activist skeptic. Indeed, as a self-identified lesbian, feminist, socialist, when I was invited to be an appellant in the Equal Marriage Charter challenge, I did so with reluctance and suspicion. I feared that the privileging of marriage would reinforce socially constructed Euroheteropatriarchal norms, effectively ending queer liberation discourse. My PhD dissertation set out to explore, from a critical theoretical lens, how disparate actors can come to understand the nature and possibility of same-sex marriage while maintaining a resistance identity.


From the standpoint of Charter Challenge appellants, using the personal affidavits written for the equal marriage court case, we will present an auto ethnographic account of our own motivations for marriage and deconstruct the marriage experience from two disparate, yet shared, spaces. Each with our own theoretical perspectives, we will explore the pitfalls and possibilities of same-sex marriage activism and consider its role as a space of queer liberation – a retrospective.

This presentation pieces together the story of a significant historical event – the constitutional challenge to the government of Canada’s definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. From the standpoint of one of the six Ontario Charter Challenge appellant couples, drawing upon memories, reflections, discussions and documentation, we present a critical auto ethnographic account of our motivations for marriage and deconstruct the marriage experience from two disparate, yet shared, spaces. This presentation documents the multiple truths and realties of what the right to marry and our role in the Charter Challenge meant then and now, fifteen years later. Given the significance of, and debate about, same-sex marriage from within the LGBTQ community, and the rapidly shifting global policy landscape that allows for same-sex marriage, retelling and deconstructing our experience is an important element of queer praxis. Illustrating how the struggle for equal marriage embodies queerness, we explore two narratives as a means of challenging the dominant discourse by claiming the right to marry, while at the same time resisting the assimilation of heteronormativity.

Additionally, we will share our experience as activists of using co-constructed auto ethnography as an embodiment of political action and personal reflexivity. From recounting of each other’s stories, shared conversations, re-examination of historical artifacts from the case to methodical challenges, which ultimately lead to publication in a respected journal. This is an opportunity to discuss auto ethnography as a form of both research contribution and political action.


Our paper will explore the following questions:

Did marriage accomplish what we had hoped it would?

Did marriage create a space of recognition and inclusion or did we/I become invisible and absorbed into mainstream discourse?

What are the personal impacts on the marriage case on us AND the subsequent impact of having been appellant in a very public and controversial event?

How does the failure of marriage to redress social inequality resonate with activists who chose equal marriage as a strategy of change?

Can marriage be leveraged beyond its intended outcome, access to rights, and reinvigorate queer liberation discourse?

Can the story telling become the embodiment of political action and personal reflexivity?

How does post-activism dialogue and critical reflection impact queer activists?


Part of panel
September 28, 2023, –