Where Are They Now?
Posted October 3, 2004
In 1974, Chris Vogel and Rich North, a gay couple from Winnipeg, Canada, made news around the world by getting married in a Unitarian Church. They were the first same-sex couple to marry publicly and bring a legal challenge to court. At this point in time, Canada did not yet have its current Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a Manitoba court later that year declared their marriage invalid.
The shock of gays choosing to practice monogamy and marriage was unprecedented, and it quickly provoked headlines of praise but mostly of outrage, especially from other churches and religious leaders. Our own Srila Prabhupada was very surprised to learn about this new development, and he immediately equated it with other symptoms of social degradation he had witnessed in the West since his arrival from India in 1965. He often commented on homosexual marriage during his last few years on the planet:
"Now the priestly order is supporting homosex. I was surprised. They are going to pass a resolution for getting married between man to man. The human society has come down to such a degraded position. It is astonishing."
"They are getting man-to-man marriage. You know? They are performing the marriage ceremony between man to man in the open church. What class of men they are? And they are priest. Just see. Such degraded persons..."
Meanwhile thirty years have passed, so where is this couple now? Well, Chris and Rich have remained together all this time and were just legally married by the same Manitoba court that had previously rejected their union. They were one of three couples to successfully challenge the province's reluctance to embrace a Supreme Court ruling that allowed gays to marry in Canada under the provisions set forth by that country's Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In addition to Manitoba, Canadian same-sex couples are free to marry in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and the Yukon, with more provinces expected to follow suit. Current polls show that 57% percent of Canadians agree same-sex couples should be allowed to marry, with only 38% disagreeing. Same-sex marriage is also legal in the Netherlands, Belgium, and the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Spain is poised to legalize gay unions next month. Most European countries and some U.S. states also have civil union laws, which grant some marriage rights, but not all, to gay and lesbian couples.
In reality, gay marriage is nothing new. Homosexuals have always existed and experience the same tendency to bond and couple that heterosexuals do. Society has simply been unaccustomed to dealing with them because, for more than a thousand years, Christian and Islamic repression did not allow homosexuals any social standing or recognition. Most indigenous cultures of the world did take note of homosexual people and their unions, such as the Native Americans, Polynesians, and many tribes in Africa and Indonesia, as well as the ancient Vedic culture of India:
"There are also third-sexed citizens, sometimes greatly attached to each other and with complete faith in one another, who get married together." (Kama Sutra 1.9.36)
"Citizens with this kind of [homosexual] inclination, who renounce women and can do without them willingly, get married together, bound by a deep and trusting friendship." (Jayamangala)
What would Srila Prabhupada say about same-sex marriage today, and what would he say about it fifty years from now when it is likely to become even more socially acceptable and commonplace? Who can honestly say? My feeling is that he eventually would have allowed for some type of concession. Nevertheless, current circumstances will have to be addressed by current leaders. But the thirty years of love, commitment and tenacity displayed by this one gay couple speaks volumes.