“And so I called my parents the night before to tell them that I loved them if anything happened and that they knew that I loved them. That Sunday morning we had services in the morning and the weddings were in the afternoon. And that Sunday morning bodyguards came picked me up….they said ‘You’ve gotta wear your (bullet-proof) vest cause were going to drive you to church in a different route just in case’ ‘cause the police said that there were people coming to kill me that day. And so they drove us to church a different route. Whisked me into the church. I had to stay in my office until the 9 o’clock service, go out do the service, go right back into my office, stay there. Go out do the 11 o’clock service, come right back into my office and stay there.
And frankly we let our guard down a bit because of the 11 o’clock service, in the middle of the service, a woman came to the front of the service yelling and throwing pamphlets. And so I approached her very calmly and told her that it was a criminal offence in Canada to disrupt a worship service, a religious worship service and that she needed to stop. And she pushed me over and that’s assault. And so she was arrested and taken away. And so that kind of really scared us because you know if that’s going to happen at 11 o’clock (service) what’s going to happen at the wedding?
And so (there were) 50 police officers in the basement of the church. A thousand people came to the weddings excited as anything. Everybody had to be searched at the door. There were protesters and signs and yelling outside, and there were 80 media outlets from around the world. Some of which for the very first time were covering a positive event in the lives of gays and lesbians. First time ever.
So when I walked into the sanctuary as soon as I walked in, people stood and applauded and cheered. And cheered because they knew it was a story. And I reminded them that this was a worship service and that any disruption a criminal offence and people would be prosecuted and arrested. And so we proceed with the weddings and at the end of the weddings the way it works with the Publication of the Banns is – after all the usual signing and stuff I sign it and I issue the marriage certificate instead of the State, instead of the City Hall. And so I issued the marriage certificates to the lesbian couple and the gay male couple and declared them married and the place went nuts. It was like cheering and cheering and cheering and cheering. And all the papers had the same picture the next day: me in my robes and the lesbian couple and the gay male couple all standing together and all of us just beaming that we were so excited.
And like I said I couldn’t leave my home for two weeks without a bodyguard. I got a phone call at home that said ‘people like you need their heads cut off’.”
Daniel’s Reflection: For 40 years, Reverend Brent Hawkes has been the pastor of the Toronto congregation of the gay-affirming Metropolitan Church. In January, 2001 he officiated what is on record as the world’s first legal gay marriages. Why is gay marriage such a profound spiritual issue? I am inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail” where he states: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” Preventing the same rights to people based on sexual orientation and gender identity “degrades human personality” and keeps us stuck in an antiquated view of human rights. So it was such a great honor to spend time with Rev. Hawkes in his home in the Fall of 2017 leading up to his retirement this month (January 28, 2018). I am deeply moved by his own journey to accept his homosexuality and his deep sense that he was both gay and called to ministry at a time when those two things could not easily co-exist.
“So when I was a kid I prayed and prayed and prayed for God to take away these desires and they never did (go away). So there was an element of doubt here. What’s wrong here? Am I not praying hard enough? Is the church wrong? Is God punishing me? What is going on here? If God, my best friend wouldn’t fix this? And today I can say thank God that God never answered that prayer or I would never have this incredible journey. I would never have gotten to this place of acceptance and seeing sexuality, seeing sexual orientation very different from what the Church and society taught it.
(I am most grateful) that I didn’t give up on God and that God didn’t give up on me. You know it would have been – and that I didn’t give up on who I was myself. It would have been so easy to become a Baptist minister and pretend, live a lie. It would have been so easy to have given up on Christianity just been mad because God didn’t take it away. And God could (have) given up on me when I said no that I wasn’t going to become a minister (if I couldn’t be out).”
Rev. Brent Hawkes gives me a new definition of faith: not giving up on God and believing that God has not given up on me. Brent Hawkes honored all of who he was and did not quit before the universe revealed to him the full impact of what he could contribute.
Thank you to Reverend Brent Hawkes. For 40 years of ministry. For not giving up on yourself or God. For putting on a bullet-proof vest to officiate the world’s first legal gay wedding. For going on a 25-day hunger strike when police raided gay bathhouses in Toronto. For advancing the cause of spirituality and LGBTQ inclusion so more people could be more whole and integrated and healthy and fully contributing and loving members of society.