Let no man put asunder

Steven and Rob Dunbar-Edge don't hold hands in public. "It's because of our height difference," said Steven with laugh. "He's so tall. But height is only part of it.

Steven and Rob Dunbar-Edge don’t hold hands in public.

“It’s because of our height difference,” said Steven with laugh. “He’s so tall.”

But height is only part of it.

For the Yukon couple, public displays of affection are still dangerous territory.

“We’re very aware,” said Rob.

Even calling Steven “Honey,” gives him pause.

“Sometimes I stop and think, ‘Where am I, who was around me when I said that?’” said Rob.

Five years ago, on July 17, Rob and Steven tied the knot.

“When Rob first proposed, in February 2003, we knew we were going to have a wedding—whether we had a legal marriage or not was the question,” said Steven.

A year later, on a “bite-me-cold” February day, the lovesick pair made their way to the Yukon’s vital statistics office and applied for a marriage licence.

“They were very polite,” said Steven.

“They just stated what they’d been told, ‘Yukon is not processing marriage licences for same-sex couples.’”

The couple asked for an explanation in writing.

Then they waited, and waited.

“It took them months,” said Steven.

“And that drove us to the point of deciding that a lawsuit was the only thing that was going to ensure we had a marriage date that matched our wedding date.”

At the time, both BC and Ontario allowed same-sex marriage.

“We could have gone to Atlin, BC,” said Steven.

“But the Yukon is my home, I grew up here.”

And he paid his dues.

“In school, I was called ‘fag’ and ‘sissy,’” said Dunbar.

“I was punched and had my head smashed into lockers.”

Dunbar left when he was 18.

“You couldn’t get me out of here fast enough,” he said.

For the next 15 years, he held down a telecommunications job in Alberta and “came out.”

“It was a party,” he said.

“It was the most lively time of my life—then AIDS happened.”

By the time Dunbar was 31, he’d been to more funerals than most people attend in a lifetime.

And on several occasions it was almost his own.

“I was coming home late one night in Edmonton and three guys stopped me,” said Steven. They asked him if he was coming from a gay bar.

Steven lied. But it didn’t fly and they started pounding on him.

“I managed to get away, but it cost me my coat,” he said.

“I ran like I’ve never run before. They would have seriously injured me, or killed me.”

Another time, Steven and some friends were walking home from a bar when he caught a movement in the doorway ahead of them.

The group crossed the street and saw a man standing in the doorway waiting for them, holding a two-by-four with a spike in the end.

“That’s what we face,” he said.

“You still hear about it today.

“A man was just beaten in Vancouver for holding hands with his boyfriend.”

And Steven’s Whitehorse travel business, yukonpride.ca, gets hate mail daily.

“I get good, God-fearing e-mails,” he said. “But spam is spam.”

Sitting in his office at Uniglobe Travel on Tuesday, Steven and Rob were celebrating an anniversary.

Five years ago, on July 14, 2004, the pair won their court case against the territory.

Three days later, they became the first same-sex couple to be legally married in the Yukon.

“Planning a wedding is nerve-racking enough,” said Steven.

“But my list of things to do, like, ‘Pick up suit, do this, do that,’ also included, ‘Go to court, get ruling.’

“It was another whole layer.”

More than 250 people attended the ceremony.

Steven and Rob originally kept their own names, but after a trip to the US, they changed their mind.

A border guard told the couple their marriage would not be recognized in certain states.

“So if something happened, and I wanted to visit Rob in the hospital, or vice versa, it would not be allowed,” said Steven.

At least with a hyphenated name, the men can claim they’re family.

“So if we landed in a country where it is punishable by death, at least we could say we are brothers,” he said.

“These are the strategies you employ, when you’re in our position, to protect each other.”

In Whitehorse, the hyphenated name makes some acquaintances uncomfortable.

“There are people who won’t say both our names together,” said Steven.

“I’ll say, ‘It’s Steven Dunbar-Edge,’ and they’ll say, ‘Right, Steven Dunbar.’”

The Yukon has a large gay community, but it’s vulnerable, said Steven.

“There’s still work to be done here,” he said.

“There are people who are in high school, just like I was, that need to be treated well and know they are welcome to stay here.”

Steven is an accidental activist.

“When we first went to court, someone referred to me as an activist, and that surprised me,” he said.

“I said, ‘I’m not an activist, I just want to live my life equally.’”

But five years of married life has changed that.

“My marriage is so precious to me that even the thought of that being taken away, or muddled with, is so scary to me,” said Steven.

“That has made me more of an activist today.”

The marriage symbolizes recognition and acceptance, said Rob.

“It’s a true sense of security and commitment,” added Steven.

“I really like that feeling of knowing he’s got my back and I’ve got his—for better or for worse—we really meant it, and we really feel it.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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