On the night of July 11, 2016, Karen Turner and Heather Steeves were sitting in the bar of the hotel where the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod was meeting; they were commiserating with other members of Equally Anglican, an Anglican LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual Transgender, Queer/Questioning) group.
They had just watched the primate, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, announce that the motion to change church law to allow same-sex marriage had failed to pass by one critical vote in the Order of the Clergy at General Synod.
For Turner and Steeves, the decision hit close to home: they had been living together for more than 20 years, and had often wondered if they would see the day when they could be married in an Anglican church.
So when Archbishop Colin Johnson announced that the diocese of Toronto, where Turner and Steeves are members, would be offering rites of marriage for same-sex couples, they were elated.
“The celebration in that bar was incredible,” Turner recalled in an interview with the Anglican Journal. “I was just so grateful. It was such a courageous thing for him to do.”
When they learned the next day that an error had been made in counting the vote, and that the motion had, in fact, passed on first reading, it was, in Turner’s words, “a dream.” (The motion will be sent to General Synod for second reading in 2019.)
Five months later, on December 3, Turner and Steeves were wed at their home parish, Toronto’s Church of the Redeemer.
Both recall the day with great joy, but they acknowledged it meant something slightly different for each of them.
When the couple met in the early 1990s, Turner was married to a man; in fact, it was through her ex-husband that she met Steeves, who worked for the Baptist church. The two fell in love, and when Turner’s marriage fell apart, she and Steeves began living together.
Steeves eventually left the Baptist church and began working for the diocese of Toronto, at which point the couple was able to be more open about their relationship.
Their relationship was blessed in a commitment ceremony in 2000, but when civil marriages for same-sex couples in Canada became legal in Ontario in 2003, they decided to hold off.
“We had a long debate between ourselves whether or not we would ever get married, but if we were going to do it, it would be within the church,” said Turner, adding that she didn’t feel particularly driven to remarry following her divorce from her husband.
For Steeves, however, a Christian wedding ceremony was important—especially because of the way the church she was raised in made her think of her own sexuality as being aberrant.
Most members of Steeves’ family, who are still conservative Baptists, “[stepped] outside of their comfort zone” and attended her wedding.
“The affirmation of that!” Steeves recalled, her voice full of emotion. “I’ve had a few moments in my life when something like that would happen, when God would make Godself so evident in my life, and that was one of them. And that joy has not left me since that day.”
The Rev. David Howells, who officiated at the wedding, said he felt “privileged” to have been priest-in-charge of Redeemer at the time. (He now serves at the Church of the Transfiguration.)
The ceremony was both a way for Turner and Steeves to affirm their love for each other in the presence of their community and a symbol of how the Anglican church has developed on LGBTQ matters, he said.
“I think everybody in that church was celebrating both a marriage and the significance of this marriage,” he said. “It was ridiculous that two people who had lived as life partners for years could now get married—ridiculous that they had to wait this long.”