Brent Hawkes, pastor who officiated Canada's first legal gay marriages, delivers final Christmas Eve sermon

Toronto Reverend Brent Hawkes reflected on 40 years as a pastor and connecting religion with the LGBTQ community.

Hawkes gained international fame after officiating at the world's first legal same-sex union

Reverend Brent Hawkes delivered his final Christmas sermon on Sunday night. (CBC NEWS)

The well-known Toronto pastor who officiated Canada's first legally recognized same-sex marriages delivered his final
sermon on Sunday. 

Much has changed in society over the 40 years that Rev. Brent Hawkes has presided over the Metropolitan Community Church. 

"The LGBT community, in those early days, had almost no human rights. There was no human rights protection or in legislation," Hawkes explained at the church on Christmas Eve. 

Hawkes had hoped to advance social justice, which he called a constant in his work. While he says that will not change, another constant of his life is ending; the annual Christmas Eve sermon. 

The pastor delivered his final holiday sermon on Sunday evening at Roy Thomson Hall.

"It is with both a sense of sadness and excitement that I address you this evening," said Hawkes.

Reverend Brent Hawkes delivered his final Christmas sermon on Sunday night. (CBC News)

"It's time. It's time for me and it's time for the church and we've chosen a great guy [Rev. Jeff Rock] to take over, so the church is going to be in very good hands." 

The theme of this year's sermon was Gifts, many of which Hawkes said he has been fortunate to receive over the years.

"I'd like to give thanks to the gift I have been given, to be able to pastor this amazing church and to be a part of this amazing community for the last forty years," said Hawkes.

Officiant of world's first same-sex marriage

Hawkes is known for officiating former NDP leader Jack Layton's state funeral in 2011, but it was an earlier service that garnered him international fame.

He was the officiant of the world's first same-sex marriages in 2001; unions that were recognized by the Ontario Court of Appeal in a 2003 ruling. 

In 2001, the openly gay pastor married two same-sex couples using a legal loophole: the ancient Christian tradition of publishing the banns of marriage. At the time, same-sex couples could not obtain marriage licences from municipal clerks, but the Ontario Marriage Act allowed couples to be granted a licence if their names were published and read out
at church for three Sundays in a row. 

But when the couples tried to have the marriages registered with the province, it refused. The couples and the church sued, and the Ontario Court of Appeal eventually recognized their unions in a ruling that paved the way for same-sex marriage to be legalized across the country.

​Advancements in civil and human rights for LGBTQ people continue to weigh heavily on Hawkes's mind as he reflected Sunday on how public attitudes have changed. 

Metropolitan Community Church has been involved in outreach into Toronto's LGBTQ community. (CBC News)

"What we think is the most powerful thing is when people come out. When people come out to family and friends, that changes their hearts and minds," Hawkes said.

He is hoping to continue his work as an activist but says he recognizes that his previous work has let him know that future advancements will be hard-won. 

"Most human rights movements have felt a backlash. There are dips and doodles along the way, when you make progress and then you face a backlash."

Hawkes is set to officially retire on Jan. 28.

With files from The Canadian Press