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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 12:30 GMT 13:30 UK
Gay family denied entry to US
The couple during the marriage ceremony in Toronto in 2001
The couple's marriage was only legally recognised last year
A Canadian gay couple has been refused entry into the United States after filling out joint customs forms as a family.

The two men - Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa who are legally married under Ontario law - refused to fill out separate forms and cancelled their trip, to a human rights conference in Georgia.

The US Embassy in Ottawa defended the action by US immigration officials at Toronto airport, saying that the 1996 US Defence of Marriage Act defined marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife".

We will not deny our marital status in order to get into a country
Kevin Bourassa
"This is the law of the country, so as a sovereign country, the US can definitely do what it wants," embassy spokeswoman Danielle Lorrain said.

Celebrated couple

"We're disappointed," Kevin Bourassa told Reuters news agency.

Canada's Prime Minister Jean Chretien
Canada's PM considering extending same-sex marriages across the country

"It is not up to the US to define for Canada what constitutes a family and that is what they have attempted to do today."

"We certainly could not enter the US in good conscience as singles, hiding behind forms," Mr Bourassa added.

He said that the couple's lawyer had already been in touch with Canada's Foreign Ministry to raise a complaint to the US ambassador.

"We're looking for the recognition of equal marriage abroad. We will not deny our marital status in order to get into a country," Mr Bourassa said.

The couple were married in a religious ceremony in Toronto in 2001.

But their relationship was legally recognised only last June, after a ruling by a court in Ontario.

Since then, they have become one of Canada's most celebrated gay couples, regularly appearing on television shows.

The Canadian Government is currently considering to extend same-sex unions throughout the country.

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