Ontario's Superior Court of Justice began hearing today two landmark challenges to Canada's marriage laws. One case involves a challenge to the refusal by the City Clerk of Toronto to issue a marriage licence to eight same-sex couples seeking the equal right to marry.

"This marriage case is of utmost importance to both of us because it speaks to equality, dignity and quality of life for us as individuals who belong to the mainstream," said Barbara McDowall? and Gail Donnelly, one of the couples involved in the case. "If we want to live in a world where we can marry the person that we choose to love, then we must do whatever we can to make that happen - and then we will live in that world."

"Finally, after 25 years of a loving relationship, we will hopefully have validation of that relationship in the eyes of society," added Tom Allworth and Al Pittman, another of the couples. "We will no longer be just the two men who live quietly on the street, but, taking pride in our lives together, will be recognized as equal contributors to society as a whole."

Other couples are: Hedy Halpern & Colleen Rogers, Michael Leshner & Michael Stark, Michelle Bradshaw & Rebekah Rooney, Dawn Onishenko & Julie Erbland, Carolyn Rowe and Carolyn Moffatt, Alison Kemper & Joyce Barnett. The 8 couples are represented by Martha McCarthy? and Joanna Radbord of Epstein Cole.

Being heard simultaneously is a challenge by the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto (MCCT). After publishing banns for same-sex couples Kevin Bourassa & Joe Varnell and Elaine & Anne Vautour in accordance with an age-old legal tradition, the MCCT married the couples in a double wedding ceremony on January 14, 2001. The Ontario Government, however, refused to register the marriages, and neither the provincial nor federal governments have been willing to recognize the legal validity of the marriages. The Church has issued legal proceedings to protect its constitutional rights to freedom of religion and equality.

"We look forward to the day when Canada embraces the diversity of all people, and legally recognizes what God already knows - that love has no bounds," said Rev. Dr. Brent Hawkes, Senior Pastor of the MCCT.

"We'd like to see our relationship treated with the same respect that our married siblings and friends' relationships receive," added Anne and Elaine Vautour.

The MCCT is represented by Douglas Elliott, Patricia LeFebour? and Trent Morris of Elliott & Kim.

The national organization, EGALE, has been granted intervenor status, in recognition of the fact that the Court's decision will impact upon the equality rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people all across Canada. EGALE is represented by Cynthia Petersen and Vanessa Payne of Sack Goldblatt Mitchell.

"Denying same-sex couples the freedom to marry is an antiquated discriminatory rule that has no place in contemporary Canadian society," explained Ms. Petersen today. "We are confident that the Court will recognize the need to change the law to reflect modern social reality and values."

Also supporting the case is Marilyn Byers, of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "We love our gay and lesbian children equally with our heterosexual sons and daughters", said Ms. Byers. "Wouldn't any parent want their children treated equally? It's only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legally recognized."

A judge delivered a ruling in a B.C. marriage challenge last month, and a hearing in a Quebec marriage challenge will begin on Thursday, November 8. A recent Leger Marketing poll demonstrated that over 65% of Canadians support granting same-sex couples the equal right to marry.

For further info, call Bob Gallagher, Media Liaison: 416-392-4043; cell: 416-456-4043