309 Licenses Issued For Toronto Gay-Lesbian Unions

By HECTOR CANTU / The Dallas Morning News

TORONTO – Soon after the Ontario Court of Appeal ruled June 10 that gay men and lesbians could get married, same-sex couples began showing up at Toronto City Hall to get their marriage licenses.

Through July 4, the city had issued 309 same-sex marriage licenses. Forty-nine had gone to U.S. couples.

Many of the couples chose to be married in the City Hall wedding chapel.

The elevator doors open and a large, boisterous family emerges.

"They've been together 16 years," Audrey Dawson, 83, announces to no one in particular. Clerks and onlookers at the chapel exchange smiles and curious glances.

At the center of the clan are Craig Dawson and Rick Belanger.

They are here to get married.

"You're happy, aren't you sweetheart?" Ms. Dawson asks her son.

"The word is gay," he says as his partner and future in-laws burst into laughter.

The clerk signals that the officiator – Canada's equivalent of a justice of the peace – is ready. The group makes its way to the chapel door.

In the chapel, vows are exchanged. Tears flow. The couple emerge officially married. "I've never felt such joy," says Mr. Belanger, 38. "I never realized how much getting married could mean to me."

"Rick's brother said, 'You are my brother-in-law,' " says Mr. Dawson, 41. "That means a lot."

Moments later, the elevator doors open and as suddenly as they entered, the family is gone.

Dana Morgan wants her children to have a stable home.

So she and her partner, Ashley Morgan, both 22, have driven eight hours from Northern Virginia to get married in Toronto.

"We're both strong Christians, and it's important to me to tell my children their parents are married," says Dana, a student and homemaker.

The couple don't have children, but they plan to start a family soon. They've already legally adopted the same last name.

For now, they're focused on their wedding. Ideally, they say, they'd love to have a traditional ceremony. "Just because I'm a lesbian," Dana says, "doesn't mean I don't dream of a white dress and a special day."

When Ontario decided it would allow same-sex marriages, Debbie Stokes and Cindy Williams' dream of a traditional wedding was within reach.

So, already on their way to Toronto for Gay Pride Week, the Albany, Ga., couple bought wedding rings, packed their wedding clothes and booked a boat tour of the world-famous newlywed destination of Niagara Falls.

"I felt like it was finally happening," says Ms. Stokes, 39, a health-care professional. She and Ms. Williams, 42, have been together six years.

Ms. Stokes is not sure whether her marriage will be recognized under Georgia law, but she's happy she can finally tell people she is married.

"That was the best week of my life," she says.