The Debate that Wasn’t: Implications of Same-Sex Marriage on the Canadian LGBTQ Movement

The legalization of same-sex marriage in Canada has a number of implications on the Canadian LGBTQ movement and hence its culture. It has gone on to become a classic example that epitomizes a growing divide within Canada’s LGBTQ movement. For purposes of politically locating segments of the movement, LGBTs represent the mainstream segment of the movement, with assimilationist aspirations of acceptance and respectability, often modeling their lives along the lines of straight couples. They unquestioningly seek equality within heteronormative institutions in the name of equality. Queers represent a progressive even radical segment of the LGBTQ movement, who critically question existing institutions and seek to transform society for liberationist purposes. LGBTs represented that segment of the movement who were proponents of same-sex marriage, whereas, queers questioned and challenged the desire to gain access to this institution.

This paper highlights how Canadian LGBT proponents of same-sex marriage restricted debate to focus exclusively on traditional/couplist and neo-liberal perspectives. Five pro-same-sex marriage platforms are analytically deconstructed shedding light on questions that are having a serious impact on Canada’s current and future queer culture that LGBT proponents of same-sex marriage are not addressing. The platforms include: framing same-sex marriage as a human rights issue; presenting a selective notion of equality; psychologically linking marriage to one’s personal self-worth; perverting the (Canadian) notion of civil unions; and promoting marriage as a choice. A queer liberationist perspective is injected into the discourse to expand the narrowed frameworks of recognizing non-traditional relationships. By broadening the frameworks with which to examine this issue the very platforms utilized by LGBT proponents of same-sex marriage are called into question, with ideological implications for and alternatives to recognizing and celebrating a myriad of relationships.

The legalization of same-sex marriage in an increasing number of countries and its continued pursuit in numerous other countries presents us with numerous challenges on both scholarly and political fronts. From a scholarship perspective we have an opportunity to engage in less restrictive homonormative perspectives, by challenging the privileging of one kind of relationship over all others. Freeing ourselves to define our lives for ourselves, a liberation-based question would be, what alternatives do we want? This would make for a broader more robust debate in which relationships are not restricted to heteronormative couples only. Such discourses also bridge with material practicalities regarding how one takes up these issues politically and strategically within the LGBTQ movement with implications on policy, benefits and responsibilities. The visions, desires and aspirations of the queer liberation movement in turn can fuel discourse for scholars in understanding why this segment of the LGBTQ movement has been marginalized from within. For those of us who wear both activist and scholarly hats, the facilitation of knowledge and experience exchange assists us in returning to core issues beyond marriage.


The inclusion of this presentation in the conference will provide attendees with a critical analysis of the means by which politics were played out towards the legislation of same-sex marriage in a country outside the US. Preceding US same-sex marriage legislation by 10 years, Canada has now had a decade of such legislation with heteronormative and neoliberalizing effects on mainstream society and homonormative and assimilationist effects on its LGBTQ movement. The insidiousness of the mainstreaming effect of marriage on LGBTQ culture has left many unsure of how to question and critique a segment of our movement’s fight for and victory in legalizing same-sex marriage. This presentation will provide suggestions and recommendations regarding the need to open up a debate, broaden the discussion and expand our options after marriage premised on a queer liberation perspective.


Part of panel Forms of Exclusion in Marriage Law
October 2, 2016, 11:00–12:45