“As Long As Love Shall Last”
These were the vows exchanged by Chris Vogel and Rich North forty years ago on February 11th, 1974 during their wedding ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Winnipeg. Theirs was the first same-sex marriage ceremony performed in the province and the second in Canada. Michel Girouard and Réjean Tremblay, a Montreal couple, were married in 1972.
Vogel and North did not place much value on the institution of marriage. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, gays and straights alike were critical of marriage. They saw it as an unequal relationship that reinforced gendered roles where women were considered property and subservient to men. Many within the local gay liberation movement did not support Vogel and North’s plan to get married. For them it seemed that getting married was a pathetic attempt to fit into a heterosexual mold. Vogel and North, however, felt that a wedding ceremony would bring media attention and help educate the public about homosexual relationships. At the time, many believed that gays could not fall in love or have long-term meaningful relationships in the same way as heterosexuals. By getting married, Vogel and North wanted to challenge this misconception and show that marriage need not only exist between a man and a woman.
Vogel and North following their wedding ceremony. Photo: University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections, Winnipeg Tribune Fonds, PC 89 (A.3267).
The Province of Manitoba refused to register Vogel and North’s wedding which led the couple to take the province to court. The judge ruled that marriage was the union of two people of the opposite sex and declared that no marriage had taken place. The Manitoba Marriage Act made it impossible for Vogel and North to appeal the judge’s decision so they had no legal recourse to pursue their challenge.
When same-sex marriage was legalized in Manitoba in 2004, Vogel and North decided not to remarry. Having been married in 1974 they saw no reason to go through the trouble. As Vogel said, “We considered ourselves, to the extent that it mattered to us, utterly married.”
Vogel and North’s 1974 wedding certificate. Source: CMHR Archives (Courtesy: Richard North and Chris Vogel).
The publicity the wedding engendered achieved the goals that Vogel and North had set forth but it also benefited them personally. As Chris Vogel explained, “[The] marriage was so well publicized going back was hopeless. We were free to do what we liked. … It opened things up. It made things easier. It eliminated any chance of somebody trying to force us back into the closet. … We could just get on with our lives in a way that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.”
Same-sex marriage will be one of 18 “story niche” exhibits within the Museum’s largest gallery, devoted to Canada’s human rights journeys.