The Genuine Marriage Test – And Why I’d Fail

December 31st, 2007. Our friend John performs our wedding ceremony. I rock a wedding boa. Greg still has hair.

First, an upfront – my marriage isn’t technically “genuine” since Greg and I never bothered with a license. In Canada, common law relationships carry the same legal status as married, so there is no financial benefit to paying for the piece of paper if you are a Canadian citizen. So while we’d immediately set off flags if one of us was originally from another country, no eyelashes were batted when it came to the legality of how we chose to “wed”, and as far as we’re concerned we are married and have been so for over 17 years.

But according to this piece in the Toronto Star, if one member of the couple happens to be an immigrant, you’d best be sure that you: have an actual diamond ring, kiss in your wedding photo, have a big reception (not at a restaurant, pub or home), and take a honeymoon immediately after your ceremony and be sure it’s to some place far away… because not doing any of these could mean that your wedding is not about love, but that you’re helping someone to enter and live in Canada illegally.

I don’t need to outline why this is not only stupidly racist but also just really idiotic, right?

Here’s the thing, in 1997, my wedding to Greg cost us under $500. Were we not both Canadian citizens, we would totally have flagged Immigration Canada’s checklist.

Greg had been married previously to his high school sweetheart. They parted amicably but their wedding had all the trappings, right down to the horse drawn carriage (and the massive bills after the fact to pay it all off.) Me, I’ve never been interested in the typical wedding stuff – bridesmaids, puffy dress, little bags of almonds… eugh. So to put a personal stamp on things, and to keep things within reasonable financial limits, we did this instead…

Made the wedding a surprise and kept it small
We invited all of our friends to a big fancy New Year’s Eve party (nobody knew we were getting married). People came dressed up but by keeping the point of the event a secret, it eliminated stag/ette parties, dress fittings, showers (including gifts we didn’t want or need), and having to invite all those relatives we didn’t really want there anyway. But to pull this off, it had to look like a regular house party.

No diamond ring
I fucking hate diamonds. Seriously. Horrible, ugly things. Our decision to buy matching silver rings shaped like Celtic knots saved us thousands of dollars and gave us something that we both liked, as opposed to some expected (and trite) token of our love.

No professional photos
They say that you need the fancy photo package to truly remember your special day. Nicely posed images in front of a tree or on a beach… those are what real memories are made of. Whatever. This was back in the days of film, so we just bought a dozen disposable cameras and left them around the party. The collection of pictures of our guests (and us) all having fun – and being surprised when we stopped the party for the ceremony – are astoundingly better (and more enjoyably memorable) than any photo of a bunch of people in uncomfortable suits and ugly bridesmaids dresses.

No immediate honeymoon
We waited a few months until Greg was headed to Vancouver for a work trip then extended our stay for a few days before and after the conference he was attending. Our hotel was right next to Stanley Park so while he was at meetings, I was at the beach.

DIY – dress, cake, decorations
Yes, I made my own wedding dress and cake. I also made all of the food that our 50 or so guests ate. Because it was a surprise wedding, we kept the food and decor to the traditional tacky NYE stuff, and I made a dress that was fabulous enough to be wed in but that wouldn’t give the surprise away before we were ready. I hope I don’t need to explain just how much money this saved us. And while it was a bit stressful to be frantically cooking two days before my wedding, it was probably far less stressful than dealing with caterers, bakeries and {shudder} wedding dress fittings.

Of course, any of these things (and all of them together) that made our wedding so fun and unique and personal would be considered a red flag if done by a couple who happened to be immigrants.

Immigration is getting a lot of flack for this document and is backtracking quite desperately, but the damage is already done. People who choose to get married on a budget, eschew traditional wedding activities, keep their event small, or even feel guided by their ethics (in the case of diamonds), might be considered suspect because of racist government policies. Couples that include a non-citizen will now feel pressured to have a more traditional wedding with all the (expensive and cliched) bells and whistles, just to prove to the government that they’re really in love.