by John Sikkema
Last month, a federal court ruled that a man and woman who have a committed friendship, a sexual relationship, financial interdependence, and a child together qualify as having a “conjugal relationship” for purposes of immigration law.
“Ok,” you say, “is that news?”
Well, you see, the man is same-sex-attracted.
And so, the Toronto Star reports that this “groundbreaking judgment” enters “unchartered territory by broadening the definition of conjugal relationships to include mixed-orientation couples.”
I’ve got news for the Star. This is well-chartered territory. Same-sex-attracted persons have been forming conjugal relationships (which, until recently, were heterosexual by definition) since always.
Rather than “broadening” the definition, it hearkens back to the “traditional” definition of, as the judge put it, “a loving relationship centred on the concept of a joint family unit.” As the old bigoted argument goes, families form through the conjugal union of a man and woman.
But, in our culture, the narrative that dominates is that homosexual persons only ever entered opposite-sex relationships because an oppressive, homophobic society forced them to live a lie. Google search “gay man marry woman” and you’ll find stories of men who decided, often after years of marriage, to leave their wives and “be true to themselves,” to be freed from “internalized homophobia” and oppressive cultural expectations. The dominant narrative says it is always futile and harmful for gay people to marry (a person of the opposite sex).
But maybe this narrative, which served its purpose in driving cultural and legal change, may now be too dominant, even in “progressive” thinking. “It’s 2020 and society has become more accepting of different forms of relationship,” the couple’s lawyer told the Star. “I think the concept of mixed-orientation marriages is coming more to the foreground now,” she added. “There’s even a Netflix show about it.”
The judge ruled that immigration officials had “pre-determined conclusions on the ability of mixed-orientation couples” to form conjugal relationships. The judge overturned their decision.
What is remarkable about the case is the man’s personal testimony, which runs directly counter to the dominant notion that gay men enter opposite-sex relationships only due to internalized homophobia, and that they must eventually realize this is futile and either stay miserable or decide to embrace homosexuality.
The couple is anonymous, but we’ll call them Ali and Anna. They became friends in university and remained friends after, but lived in different countries. Ali was actively homosexual and fled to Canada to protect himself. Ali and Anna, who had been friends for years at this point, planned a trip vacation together in another country and had sex.
Anna became pregnant. The two committed to each other and their child, to raise the child together as a family unit. They considered marrying in a third country but encountered difficulties in planning it, due to immigration issues. So, they decided that Ali would sponsor Anna to move to Canada.
Ali professed feeling love and commitment to Anna. Ali and Anna, by necessity, still lived apart, but continued to take trips together and to be sexually intimate on their trips.
When questioned about the sexual aspect of their relationship by Canadian immigration officials, Ali explained that his mindset shifted “step by step, from vacation to vacation, from more time spent together … to see that it is possible” and that for him, their sexual relationship was about “getting all the richness of feelings or being, having sex with who you love.”
Human sexuality is complex. The point of this blog is not that all same-sex-attracted persons should seek a marital relationship. For many, that may be infeasible or unwise. Many same-sex-attracted people have felt wrongly pressured in that direction, a fact that provides a grain of truth in the oppression narrative summarized above. One need not marry to have a good, fulfilled life.
Still, after closely following political and cultural “debate” on matters of marriage and family for years, it was quite something to read this judgment. Ali had embraced the fact that he is gay. He has had several male partners. Yet, as this court ruling testifies, he has found meaning and happiness with Anna and their child, in a “loving relationship centred on the concept of a joint family unit.”
Their child has, as every child should have, a committed mother and a father. I think that is something to celebrate.