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Monday, 15 January, 2001, 11:28 GMT
Gay couples wed in Canadian first
Double gay marriage, Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto
A packed church rang with cheers during the ceremony
Two same-sex couples have exchanged wedding vows in a Toronto church after possibly finding a loophole in Canadian law that could make them the first legally married homosexual couples in the country.

The couples, one pair of lesbians and one pair of gay men, posted banns in the Christian tradition, which under one reading of provincial law allows marriage without a licence.

A lot of Canadian people are ready for this

Lesbian bride Anne Vautour
The province of Ontario is unlikely to recognise the unions as marriage because it defines marriage as taking place between a man and a woman.

But the Governor-General of Canada - the Queen's representative who is legally head of state - has sent a telegram congratulating the couples.

Gay church

The marriages took place at the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, a church known for its support of the gay and lesbian community.

Before the weddings there was a queue around the block to get into the church, and friends and family interrupted the service regularly with cheers.

Elaine Vautour (left) and Anne Vautour after their wedding, 14 Jan 2001
Elaine Vautour and Anne Vautour spoke to the press after the service
The church was full to bursting as Kevin Bourassa, 42, married his partner of three years, Joe Varnell, 31. Elaine Vautour, 43, married Anne Vautour, 38, who had earlier changed her surname to Elaine's.

Anne Vautour told the BBC she thought politicians who opposed the marriages could be in for a surprise.

"I think what they're going to find is a lot of Canadian people are ready for this and [opposing] this could cost them votes", she said.

Small demonstration

A handful of demonstrators protested outside the church, which was guarded by a heavy police presence.

A lawyer for the church told the news agency AFP that the government of Ontario - the province where Toronto is located - does not "have the authority to refuse to register" the same-sex unions as marriages.

Kevin Bourassa and Joe Varnell (facing camera) marry in Toronto 14 Jan 2001
Mr Bourassa placed a ring on Mr Varnell's finger
The church has started a legal defence fund and says it is prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court.

If the marriages are recognised, they will be the first legal same-sex marriages in Canada and possibly the world.

The Netherlands legalised same-sex marriages in December, but no gay marriages have taken place there to date.

Canada does grant same-sex couples many of the same rights as married heterosexual couples, but does not recognise homosexual partnerships as marriage.

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See also:

12 Sep 00 | Europe
Dutch legalise gay marriage
26 Apr 00 | Americas
Vermont's gays win parity
30 Mar 00 | Americas
US rabbis approve gay partnership
12 Feb 00 | Americas
Canada unveils equality law for gays
21 Jan 99 | Americas
Canada tackles gay legal rights
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