Manitoba

Failing to register 1974 same-sex marriage not discriminatory: Manitoba human rights adjudicator

A Manitoba human rights adjudicator says the province's vital statistics bureau was not discriminatory for continuing to refuse to register the marriage of a same-sex couple in the 1970s.

Chris Vogel, Richard North want to see their 1974 marriage ceremony recognized

Chris Vogel (left) and Richard North asked the Manitoba Human Rights Commission to review a court decision in the 1970s that refused to recognize the legal status of their marriage. A MHRC adjudicator appointed to the review says he doesn't have the power to overturn the original decision. (Photo courtesy Rainbow Harmony Project)

A Manitoba human rights adjudicator says the province's vital statistics bureau was not discriminatory for continuing to refuse to register the marriage of a same-sex couple in the 1970s.

Chris Vogel and Richard North got married in a Unitarian church in 1974. When they went to register the marriage at what is now the Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency, they were denied based on the fact they were both men.

The pair fought the decision in court, but the judge at the time declared the law had not "intended to recognize the capacity of two persons of the same sex to marry." The judge then declared Vogel and North's ceremony as a "nullity."

The couple took the case to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission in December 2015 for review.

In his decision dated Jan. 8, 2018, adjudicator Robert Dawson said being a human rights adjudicator, he has no right to overturn the judge's decision from 1974.

"I adopt the [Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency]'s submission that the sexual orientation of the complainant was not, and is not, a factor in its rejection of [North's] application for registration. In other words, the respondent has refused to register a marriage that a court has ruled to be a nullity."

Even though the laws have evolved since 1974 to allow same-sex marriage, Dawson said he does not have the power to overturn the judge's original decision. He then urged North and Vogel to take further action.

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"The complainant's solution lies within the power of the federal Parliament to enact a special Act that would effectively overrule the decision [made in 1974]," wrote Dawson.

"Without such intervention, a bizarre and embarrassing irony will persist. It is neither fair nor just that the law refuses to recognize the 1974 marriage of a homosexual couple whose long-standing activism and advocacy have made it possible for same-sex couples of today to take for granted their right to marry."

The couple, along with the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, plan to do just that, Vogel said Wednesday.

North and Vogel are among those on the forefront of the fight for equality for LGBTQ people. Their struggles for recognition have been chronicled in an exhibit at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

After the judge's original decision in 1974, the Manitoba Marriage Act did not allow appeals of the judge's decision, leaving them no legal recourse, according to Vogel.
The marriage certificate that was issued to Richard North and Chris Vogel in 1974. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

When same-sex marriage was legalized in 2004, Vogel said the pair decided not to go through the ceremony again.

"We felt that once was enough," said Vogel. "We paid the various fees and charges associated with the marriage proper … and we did it, and our families and friends came, and co-workers and stuff, we really felt that that was enough."

Eventually, the couple took their complaint to the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, who appointed Dawson to adjudicate the decision.

"An adjudication under The Human Rights Code is exactly the forum for this kind of issue to be decided," said MHRC chair Brenlee Carrington Trepel. "Unfortunately this week's decision did not include a human rights analysis of the case. If it had, we believe the outcome for North and Vogel might have been successful."

North and Vogel are the only same-sex couple in the province facing this issue, said the MHRC.

"The commission and North will be seeking a judicial review of the decision, hoping that the Manitoba Court of Queen's Bench will order that this couple's marriage finally be entered in the provincial vital events registry."

Despite the setback, it's still important to the pair to pursue for symbolic and legal reasons, said Vogel.

"We aren't considered anymore to be depraved or inferior or criminal ... and also because marriage itself has so many legal attributes, that it's important to achieve that as well."

Same-sex couple want to see their 1974 marriage ceremony recognized

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A Manitoba human rights adjudicator says the province's vital statistics bureau was not discriminatory for continuing to refuse to register the marriage of a same-sex couple in the 1970s. 0:51

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elisha Dacey

Journalist

Elisha Dacey was a journalist with CBC Manitoba. She is the former managing editor of Metro Winnipeg and her work has been seen in newspapers from coast to coast.

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