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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 June, 2005, 21:51 GMT 22:51 UK
US gay couples head to Canada to wed
By Sarah Shenker
BBC News

Laura Thomas, right, and Kanani Kauka
Laura Thomas, right, and Kanani Kauka married in Vancouver
Canada's more liberal attitude to homosexual marriage has seen a number of US couples travelling north to get married.

While Canadian MPs have just passed a bill to legalise the unions nationwide, same-sex marriages have been permitted in a number of Canadian provinces since 2003.

Phillip Saperia, 59, married his partner of more than 30 years in Niagara Falls, Ontario, last year.

Ontario is a popular destination. While no records are kept at a provincial level, 870 same-sex couples from the US have applied for marriage license in the city of Toronto since 2003.

In the US, same-sex couples can only legally marry in Massachusetts, while 37 other states and the federal government have approved laws or amendments barring the recognition of gay marriage.

Easy process

Mr Saperia and his partner, James Golden, 60, travelled north from New York City with a friend and her daughter, and married at the Two Hearts Wedding Chapel, with flowers bought at from a convenience store.

"We wanted a licence as a political symbol, and we wanted all of the protection that it might afford us," Mr Saperia told the BBC News website.

His union is not however legally recognised in the US, and so, as yet, provides him and his partner with no extra rights back home.

Nonetheless, he says, the marriage has had a profound impact on their relationship by re-affirming their commitment to each other and bringing their families together.

They all want to be legal, they want to have their special connection recognised
Paula Rutledge
Pride Bride

After the marriage in Ontario, they held a religious ceremony for friends and family on the banks of the Delaware river in New Jersey.

Laura Thomas, 38, and Kanani Kauka, 39, from San Francisco, travelled to Vancouver in British Columbia to get married after their California marriage was declared unconstitutional.

"I have always supported the rights of same-sex couples to get married, but it wasn't high on my priority list... But once we had the opportunity, we realised how important it was to us," she says.

The ceremony in Vancouver took place in a bookstore this year, and Ms Thomas says the process was easy to arrange over the internet.

British Columbia has no residency requirements for licenses, and 802 same-sex couples from the US married there in 2003 - compared with 643 Canadian same-sex couples.

Ms Thomas says they liked the British Colombia ceremony so much they incorporated elements of it into their wedding celebration back home in California.

No recognition

Catering to this nascent demand are companies and hotels offering gay wedding packages, some including flights and witnesses.

Pride Bride in Winnipeg, in the province of Manitoba, says it is receiving a growing number of enquires from the US.

While the city is a less obvious choice for visiting Americans because of its distance from the border, owners and couple Rita Leonard and Paula Rutledge says they have already helped arrange a dozen weddings since same-sex marriage was legalised in Manitoba last year.

A rally in support of gay marriage on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada
A small majority of Canadians are in favour of same-sex marriage

"We have people who want big weddings and those who don't want a fuss," Ms Rutledge says. "But they all want to be legal, they want to have their special connection recognised."

However, the US has not recognised Canadian same-sex marriages - one Canadian gay couple was even refused entry into the US in 2003 after filling out joint customs forms as a family.

Neither has the US recognised legal same-sex marriages from Belgium or the Netherlands.

Bruce Steele, editor-in-chief of national gay and lesbian magazine The Advocate, says this is unlikely to change whatever the number of US couples marrying in Canada.

He points out that President George Bush's administration has repeatedly said it is firmly opposed to any recognition of marriage for gays and lesbians.

"Canada's decision will not help at the administration level," he says, but he believes it will help same-sex marriage advocates at the grass-roots level.

The more widespread marriages become, he says, "the more difficult if will be for the administration to maintain its position".


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