Ten years since Canada said 'I do' 

click to enlarge PHOTO BY MIKE CRANE / TOURISM WHISTLER - WinterPRIDE's 2nd annual Pride Ski Out and March through Whistler Village.
  • Photo by Mike Crane / Tourism Whistler
  • WinterPRIDE's 2nd annual Pride Ski Out and March through Whistler Village.

On Whistler streets no one pays much attention to same-sex couples strolling about — whether they are travellers or residents — they are more than welcome here.

As a popular wedding destination we celebrate the great photos we see sprinkled on social media of all the celebrations here, hardly registering the gender of those exchanging vows.

But, in fact, we should pay attention. We should never take for granted the freedom the LGBTQ community enjoys here in Canada — after all it's only been 10 years since the gender-neutral Civil Marriage Act received royal assent here.

Looking back, even just 10 years, it is hard to imagine there would be much opposition to such an act.

But there was.

Indeed then-Opposition leader Stephen Harper held a free vote on the issue in 2006. I'm glad to say, even though the act was proclaimed only a year earlier in July of 2005, Harper's move gained little to no traction.

It should be noted that several members of Harper's current cabinet voted against equal marriage, including Rona Ambrose, Jason Kenney, Diane Finley, Rob Nicholson and Pierre Poilievre.

Liberals, too, voted against it.

The debate, though probably not well remembered by most today, is an important part of our history for several reasons, not least of which was the way it brought the whole nation into the discussion.

"...It was a wide-ranging, inclusive — if heated — national discussion on an issue of national importance. Such discussions are remarkable today for their rarity," wrote then-Liberal Minister of Justice Irwin Cotler earlier this month in Toronto Star.

Canada was the fourth country in the world to say yes to same-sex marriages and the first outside of Europe.

But we have a long history of inclusion on this front.

In 1869, Moise Tellier opened his "apple and cake shop" in Montreal, the first recorded gay establishment in North America. Gay life was part of the fabric of Montreal throughout prohibition and both World Wars. Same-sex bars and clubs operated openly, and in 1977 the Quebec Charter of Rights and Freedoms was amended to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Quebec was the first jurisdiction in the world larger than a city to prohibit sexual-orientation discrimination in both private and public institutions.

Today more than 20 countries recognize same-sex marriage and it is likely that number will continue to grow.

This year we have already seen Ireland hold a successful referendum on the issue and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of it as well.

However, let's not lose sight of the fact that 76 countries still class homosexuality as illegal and five punish it by death. Laws banning "sodomy" remained in some American states until 2003.

We have come a long way, but there is still a long path ahead.

Travel is one of the greatest ways to break down barriers and stereotypes, and much has been written about the power of the "pink dollar" in the past.

While I don't agree with reducing the LGBTQ traveller to a stereotype, there is no getting away from the fact that same-sex couples love to travel in general, and they tend to spend more money than the average visitor.

The latest Canadian figures (2010) show that gay and lesbian travellers spend nearly twice as much per trip in Canada compared to other travellers — $1,131 vs. $597.00. Canada's LGBT travel market is worth $7 billion annually. LGBT travellers spent an average of more than $3,400 on travel in 2010.

U.S. figures (2014) show that 29 per cent of LGBT participants are frequent leisure travellers, taking five or more leisure trips per year, with 10 or more leisure hotel room nights per year. Fourteen per cent of LGBT respondents are frequent business travellers, taking five or more business trips per year. 

Canada is one of the top international destinations for American LGBT travellers with Vancouver, Montreal, and Toronto as the top three cities.

It used to be that gay couples flocked here to tie the knot as well. While Canada is still a popular destination, with the Supreme Court ruling in the U.S. it is likely we will see a decline here as couples stay home to celebrate.

Last year the University of California-based think tank Williams Institute pegged the economic boost of gay marriages in the U.S. at $2.6 billion through the first three years following legalization.

Wherever same-sex couples travel and celebrate — and let's hope Whistler remains a popular destination — they are looking for the same thing every adventure-seeking visitor wants.

They want to be made to feel welcome, respected and spoiled — so as Whistler marks this 10-year anniversary, let's make sure we celebrate it in style.

Last week's "Free" statement — Not FREE Forever — on the cover referred to the subject of our feature (just as the statement always has for Pique's 21 years) — water.

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