Manitoba

Same-sex Winnipeg couple won't quit fight to have 1974 marriage recognized

A Winnipeg couple whose longtime activism is credited with helping make same-sex marriage legal in Canada has applied for a review of a decision by a Manitoba Human Rights adjudication panel that upheld a vital statistics bureau decision not to register the couple's marriage from the 1970s.

Chris Vogel, Richard North appealing Manitoba Human Rights Adjudication Panel decision

Chris Vogel, left, and Richard North are appealing a Manitoba Human Rights adjudication panel decision that upheld a 1970s decision to refuse to recognize the legal status of their marriage. (Photo courtesy Rainbow Harmony Project)

A Winnipeg couple whose longtime activism is credited with helping make same-sex marriage legal in Canada has applied for a review of a decision by a Manitoba Human Rights adjudication panel that upheld a vital statistics bureau decision not to register the couple's marriage from the 1970s.

Chris Vogel and Richard North got married in a Unitarian church in 1974, but what is now the Manitoba Statistics Agency refused to register the marriage because they were both men.

At the time, they were only the second same-sex couple to get married in Canada.

The pair fought the decision in court, but the judge 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 2015 for review.

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

In his decision in January, adjudicator Robert Dawson wrote that even though laws have evolved since 1974 to allow same-sex marriage, as a human rights adjudicator he did not have the right to overturn the judge's decision from 1974.

'A bizarre and embarrassing irony'

He then urged North and Vogel to take further action.

"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]," Dawson wrote.

"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's application for a judicial review was filed with the Court of Queen's Bench in Winnipeg on Wednesday — Valentine's Day.

Vogel says he has mixed feelings about the start of another court proceeding.

"It could have been settled just by registering the marriage in 1974," he said Thursday.

"That's what the legislation federally and provincially said to do, there was no reason not to, but the government refused and they have continued refusing ever since.

"There's so little to this — it doesn't cost anybody anything — maybe there's a piece of paper involved and 10 seconds of data entry, and that's it."

Chris Vogel and Rich North of Winnipeg were the first gay couple to legally marry in Canada. Now their story is in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. 1:32

Same-sex marriage was legalized in 2004 but Vogel and North decided not to go through the ceremony again.

"It just seems wrong because heterosexual couples don't have to get married repeatedly to finally get it registered," said Vogel.

"We followed all the rules and we met all the standards in the legislation.… It was wrong for them to say no then and it's still wrong for them to try to do it differently for us than they would have done for a heterosexual couple."

North and Vogel are among those at 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.

The couple's latest foray in the courts is scheduled for March 6.

With files from Elisha Dacey