Manitoba gay couple lose fight to have 1974 marriage validated

A gay Winnipeg couple have lost their fight to have their marriage of nearly five decades registered by the province of Manitoba.

Chris Vogel and Richard North got married in 1974, becoming the first gay couple to get married in a Canadian church.

When they tried to register the marriage with what is now the Manitoba Vital Statistics Agency, they were denied based on the fact they were both men.

The pair fought the decision in court, but the judge at the time declared declared Vogel and North’s ceremony a “nullity.”

In 2018, a human rights adjudicator ruled he was bound by the 1974 ruling, which found there was nothing to be registered because there had been no marriage.

The Manitoba Human Rights Commission and North sought a judicial review of that decision in April, but their application was dismissed on June 1.

Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice ​Gerald Chartier wrote in his ruling that the previous decision, which stated that the province didn’t discriminate against North — who filed the application for review — was a reasonable decision.

The marriage certificate that was issued to Richard North and Chris Vogel in 1974. Their marriage is still not considered valid in the province. (Ryan Hicks/CBC)

“He was treated identically to all other persons whose ceremony of marriage was determined to be a nullity. He was treated identically to all other persons whose marriage had been the subject of a court decision specifically directing the province not to register,” Chartier wrote.

“Abiding by the rule of law does not amount to discrimination.” 

Same-sex marriage wasn’t legalized in Manitoba until 2004.

The latest decision doesn’t sit well with Karen Sharma, the executive director of the Manitoba Human Rights Commission, who calls the decision “a disappointing way to to start the month of Pride.”

She says the couple continues to fail to have their marriage validated.

“For us that feels like a clear issue of discrimination because that failure to recognize their marriage was on the basis of discriminatory laws from the 1970s,” Sharma said. 

“We feel like this this is an injustice and we’re disappointed that we weren’t successful at this stage in having it recognized.”

Justice Chartier took issue with North’s push to validate his marriage based on the fact that he and Vogel would be allowed to marry today, or to have the Charter of Rights and Freedoms applied retroactively.

“What Mr. North is seeking is to redress an old event which took place before the Charter created the right sought to be vindicated,” Chartier wrote.

CBC News has reached out to Vogel and North for comment but didn’t immediately receive a response.

Sharma says the human rights commission is mulling its options for further legal action.