Political bruiser shows softer side on gay wedding day
One of Canada’s most prominent gay politicians, George Smitherman, married his partner Christopher Peloso in a small ceremony in Ontario last week.
Smitherman, Ontario’s first openly gay cabinet minister, is regarded as one of the most powerful politicians in the Canadian province.
He has been Ontario’s Minister of Health since 2003, and is also Deputy Premier.
Smitherman is regarded as one of the most combative politicians in Canada, he earned the nickname Furious George for his dealings with hospital chiefs.
He has had to apologise to opposition politicians on several occasions for using unparliamentary language.
However, he was also pictured crying after seeing photographs of the conditions some patients endured in nursing homes and he defended the right of a gay teenager to take his boyfriend to the prom.
Although a right-winger, he represents a constituency in central Toronto which includes the gay village.
His partner is a retail operations manager for chocolatier Lindt Canada.
Over 200 family and friends attended the ceremony, conducted by Ojibway spiritual advisor Ron Indian-Mandamin and officiated over by Justice of the Peace Gerry Solursh.
During the ceremony, Indian-Mandamin referred to the aboriginal name for gays: “two-spirited people,” noting that in Native American history they had served as mystics and medicine men.
The couple have been together for 18 months, although they dated on and off for the past 10 years. They were officially engaged on Christmas Day.
After talking about having a “shotgun wedding'” if the federal Conservatives reversed the country’s law allowing same-sex marriage, Smitherman made his engagement public in February.
He joked about the need to get in shape for the big day to avoid wearing a “Homer Simpson-inspired muumuu,” according to news agency The Canadian Press (CP)
Smitherman popped the question to Peloso over Christmas by giving him a cream-coloured tuxedo with a wedding invitation in the pocket.
Initially, the couple tried to keep the guest list to 130 people but ended up with over 200 invitees, he told CP.
“But imagine how big the wedding would have been in Toronto,” said Smitherman.
“I’m old. I’ve been around for a long time and I know a lot of people.”
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s office said he could not attend the wedding because of a personal scheduling conflict. But he said he wishes his deputy the best of luck in married life.
According to CP, McGuinty said: “I’ve got nothing but the best of wishes for George,” before adding, jokingly, “I’m hoping that this marriage will help him come out of his shell.”
Same-sex marriage became legal in Ontario in 2003 and the federal government passed legislation in 2005 to extend that across Canada.
Smitherman was first elected to the Legislature in 1999, representing the downtown Toronto area.
In 2003, when the Liberals were swept to power, he was named health minister.
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The portfolio put him in charge of the province’s socialised medical plan and the biggest ministerial budget in the country.
In 2005 he was the keynote speaker at the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association’s annual conference in Montreal. He told delegates, mainly from the United States, that they should consider moving to Canada.
He said that doctors dissatisfied with life in the US should think about a move – especially if they want to marry.
Last year, during a speech to drug addiction counsellors Smitherman admitted to having conquered his own addiction to drugs.
He said that for a period of about five years in the early to mid 1990s he fought and beat an addiction to ‘party drugs’ – popular in Toronto’s gay scene.
The newlyweds plan to honeymoon in northern Ontario briefly before Smitherman returns to Toronto to gear up for the October’s provincial election.