In a move closely watched by U.S. homosexual activists, Toronto began issuing ‘gay’ marriage licenses today in the wake of an Ontario court’s decision to set aside the heterosexual definition of marriage as unconstitutional.

Rev. Troy Perry

“My partner and I intend to fly to Canada to be legally married under Canadian law – then we’ll return to the U.S. to carry on the fight for justice and equality in the United States,” said Rev. Troy Perry, founder and moderator of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Community Churches, which has a predominantly homosexual membership.

Toronto began issuing the licenses after the three-person provincial court ruled the federal law limiting marriage to heterosexuals violated the 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms, part of the Canadian Constitution.

The decision stemmed from a challenge brought by two same-sex couples who were united in a ceremony at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto in January 2001. The Toronto couples – Anne and Elaine Vautour and Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell – sued after the province refused to register their unions.

The Ontario court’s decision retroactively declared the January 2001 unions valid.

The 61-page decision said, “The existing common law definition of marriage violates the couple’s equality rights on the basis of sexual orientation under [constitutional law].”

Kevin Bourassa (left) and Joe Varnell were declared legally married today

The court ruling ordered the legal definition of marriage be changed, without delay, to “the voluntary union for life of two persons to the exclusion of all others.”

‘Not an incremental step’

The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said it is “deeply concerned and disappointed” with the decision.

The group, which represents evangelical Protestant churches, intervened in the case as a member of the Interfaith Coalition on Marriage and the Family, which argues that across all religions and cultures in Canada and worldwide, marriage is understood as being between a man and a woman

“This change in the common law is not an incremental step – today the court has fundamentally redefined marriage,” said Bruce Clemenger, president of the EFC. “Other courts have ruled that redefining marriage is too big a step to be made by the courts and should properly be made by Parliament.”

The Interfaith Coalition includes Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestant Christians, Muslims and Sikhs.

Clemenger said if the decision is not appealed, same-sex marriages will be legalized in Ontario.

“Nowhere else in the world has a court ruled the heterosexual definition of marriage violates human rights,” said Bruce Clemenger, president of the EFC. “It is not an appropriate use of the charter to redefine pre-existing social, cultural and religious institutions.”

Canada’s federal government has taken no immediate steps to block the Ontario decision, Reuters said.

“We’re examining the ruling,” said Mike Murphy, a spokesman for federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon. ” … We have to take some time to review it.”

Annamarie White, manager of public policy for Focus on the Family Canada, said her group is urging Cauchon to appeal, noting a parliamentary committee commissioned to study the issue is about to release its report.

“If he doesn’t appeal, he has wasted his own time and all of Parliament’s on this issue,” White told WorldNetDaily. “It makes a mockery of the legislative process.”

The Netherlands and Belgium are the only countries that treat a same-sex couple’s relationship exactly as one between a man and a woman. Homosexual marriage is not legal in the U.S., but Vermont has a civil-union law that allows couples to register and receive most of the benefits and rights of married couples without calling it marriage. Last week, California’s state Assembly passed a historic bill that would award virtually all the rights of marriage to homosexual “domestic partners.”

Thirty-seven U.S. states have passed laws that bar them from honoring same-sex marriage from another jurisdiction. However, in Massachusetts and New Jersey homosexual couples have filed lawsuits, and some analysts believe if a marriage license were issued in one of those states, it would have to be recognized in all others under the U.S. Constitution’s “Full Faith and Credit Clause.”

‘The argument’s over’

The MCC’s Perry said his churches in 22 countries perform more than 6,000 same-sex weddings each year.

“These same-sex weddings are blessed in the sight of God but not recognized by the civil authorities in most countries around the world,” he said.

Perry said he is encouraging gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, or GLBT, people around the world to “take heart in this decision.”

“In my own country, I am renewing my call for GLBT couples to continue public demonstrations every Valentine’s Day by applying for marriage licenses at marriage bureaus, city halls, and court houses across the United States,” he said.

Meanwhile, activists outside the Ontario courtroom celebrated today’s decision.

“We’re gettin’ married in the morning,” a jubilant Michael Leshner sang with his partner Michael Stark, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported.

“The argument’s over,” said Leshner, 55, a Toronto attorney who has pressed for same-sex marriage for many years. “No more political discussion, we’ve won, the charter won, it’s a great day for Canada.”

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