A decade of marriage equality in the Yukon

For their 10-year wedding anniversary on July 17, Stephen and Rob Dunbar-Edge wanted to do something significant and rather unconventional.

For their 10-year wedding anniversary on July 17, Stephen and Rob Dunbar-Edge wanted to do something significant and rather unconventional, so they decided to build a new house together.

“You need to mark these milestones,” Stephen said, “and when the right property and place came up, we did it.”

It signaled a new chapter in the lives of the trailblazing couple, who once famously defeated the territorial government in court and paved the way for same-sex marriage to be legalized in the Yukon.

Looking back on the past 10 years to that fateful day on July 14, 2004, Stephen said the overall impact of that landmark decision has been very positive.

In fact, it has actually strengthened the institution of marriage, he said.

“For all the people who had negative things to say, it really hasn’t impacted their lives.

“Some may view that it’s not valid (the marriage) but in my mind it is just as valid.

Rob and I can’t imagine our lives any other way now. The initial reaction to the marriage was very supportive and there was more of a ‘why did they even have to go through that’ reaction.”

Since July 2004, there have been 44 same-sex marriages in the territory, according to Marcelle Dube of Health and Social Services.

Craig Graham-Biggers and his husband, Fernando, are part of that group too.

They were married in 2008.

The LGBT community has been very supportive, Craig said, but he believes that people in general are more accepting of two women than they are of two men.

“Maybe it’s just me,” he said, “but if they see my husband and I holding hands going downtown, or if I’m giving him a kiss goodbye, there is less reaction if they see two women doing it.”

Corinne Gurtler, who moved to the Yukon from the Prairies in 1990, said virtually no one was “out” when she arrived here.

“It was pretty underground,” she said.

It’s become much more accepted over the years, she added.

She also thinks it’s been easier for female couples in the territory.

“It seems to me that lesbians have a far easier time, even before same-sex (marriage) was legalized here,” she said.

“In terms of being ‘out’ at work, it’s gotten a lot easier. Whitehorse is becoming more metropolitan than it was when I first moved here.”

Gurtler and her wife Cai Krikorian have been fighting the Yukon government to include both their names on their six-month-old son’s birth certificate.

Despite recent changes in territorial legislation that allow for up to four people to be included on a birth certificate, they are still waiting for one to be granted to them.

Michel Dupont, from Faro, has lived in the Yukon for almost as long as Gurtler.

He and his husband Sylvain got married in Atlin, B.C. in Sept. 2003, before it became legal in the Yukon.

In his eyes, same-sex legislation hasn’t changed the population at large as much as it has the gay community.

“It has established equality in the workplace’s adherence to spousal benefits for those who are fortunate enough to have some,” he said.

“I think that the debate that took place in the school system about gays may have raised more awareness among the general population than the passing of the same-sex legislation. Younger people are coming out and taking advantage of all the opportunities opening to them and are using the support systems that are available to them.”

He believes the gay community in the Yukon has done a great job at promoting acceptance and educating the general population.

Dunbar-Edge agrees with that statement, adding he’s proud of the territory for how quickly it reacted to the LGBT movement of the 70s and 80s.

“In the 60s and 70s it was terrible for myself,” he said.

“I felt alone and when I turned 18 you couldn’t get me out of here fast enough. But there was a shift in the Yukon around our perception of sexuality, and our acceptance of people. I think it was always ingrained in the Yukon but it was never talked about.”

Yukon was the fourth Canadian jurisdiction to add sexual orientation as a prohibited grounds for discrimination under its Human Rights Act.

In over 70 countries around the world, including 38 in Africa alone, individuals can still be punished based on their sexual orientation.

Dunbar-Edge said it’s going to take time to change attitudes and perceptions in those countries, because a lot of damage has already been done.

“You can model the way it’s supposed to be, though, and that’s what Canada can do,” he said.

“It’s already starting in the United States, one state at a time. Most people realize that someone else’s marriage doesn’t have much to do with them.” 

Contact Myles Dolphin at myles@yukon-news.com