Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Why I love my country...


HALIFAX (CP) - A day before Canada marks its 139th birthday, a young couple will wed in a ceremony that is sure to cast one of the country's most iconic symbols in a whole new light.

Dressed in their distinctive scarlet coats, RCMP constables Jason Tree and David Connors will exchange vows before a justice of the peace and a troop of other Mounties in their fabled red serge.

Reaction to the wedding - the first between two male RCMP officers - has befuddled the couple, who have been overwhelmed by interview requests from reporters and congratulations from well-wishers they've never met.

"We don't see our wedding as anything different or special," Tree, 27, said in an interview from his detachment in Meteghan on Nova Scotia's southwest coast. "Our goal was to get married, not have an international media story.

"I fail to see the big deal."

Tree, who has been an RCMP officer for six years, said he's received about 60 letters from strangers congratulating him on the big event and praising the couple for publicly proclaiming their love - and doing so in uniform.

He's heard the jokes that refer to the couple as the Brokeback Mounties, while headlines blurt out that this Mountie has gotten his man.

Blogs, too, are full of opinions.


! Neither is wearing white? Who has the garter belt and bouquet? As long as they can catch the bad guys, I don't care who they snuggle down with at night," one blogger wrote recently.

The pair decided in January to set a date for the ceremony, which will be held in a hall in Yarmouth, a town of 8,000 in western Nova Scotia that is best known for its lobster industry. They will recite their own vows before about 100 family members and friends.

Tree said he and Connors, who works in nearby Yarmouth, never intended to make a political statement.

"I don't think there's any difference between us and anyone else who wants to get married," said Tree, who met Connors more than eight years ago at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton.

"I'm interested in getting married with David and I guess I'm not interested in engaging in a political debate or anything like that."

Like it or not, the couple's pending nuptials will be held in advance of another heated political debate over the fate of same-sex marriage in Canada, which was recognized by Parliament a year ago.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has pledged to hold a free vote in the House of Commons this fall to determine whether the issue should be revisited.

The move infuriated gay rights activists, who seized on the Mountie marriage as a public rebuke of the Tories' agenda.

"I think these Mounties are sending a message to the government that we are not going to let Harper dictate the natural progression of our relationships," Gemma Hickey, president of Egale Canada, said from St. John's, N.L.

"It flies in the face of every negative stereotype about gay men."

Environics Research released a poll last week that suggested a majority of Canadians accept gay marriage and oppose the idea of re-opening the issue in the House of Commons.

The survey, conducted on behalf of Canadians for Equal Marriage, said 62 per cent of respondents felt

the same-sex marriage question was settled. Only 27 per cent wanted it reopened.

Meanwhile, Harper has issued a gag order to his MPs, instructing them not to comment on the Mounties' marriage in a bid to avoid controversy.

However, Tree said the RCMP have been supportive of his relationship since he joined the force.

Sgt. Frank Skidmore, a spokesman for the force in Halifax, said the organization is trying to reflect a broader spectrum of the Canadian community.

"It's the law in this country, so it's accepted by the RCMP," he said. "The RCMP welcomes a workforce that is representative of Canadian society.

"People look at Canadian icons with their own eyes and if it changes it for them then so be it. But it certainly doesn't change anything for us. The RCMP's proud of its ability to be flexible and adaptive to shifting priorities."

In Yarmouth, where Connors has patrolled the streets for the past three years, the locals don't seem to be making much of a fuss over the wedding.

Brian Smith, warden of the area, said he hasn't heard much in the coffee shops or on the streets of the port town since the story first broke in May.

"It isn't a subject that's brought up daily here," he said. "It's just not a topic around here."

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