4 min

Customize your love

Queer marriages aren't paint by numbers

Credit: Xtra files

Eleanor Low and Meredith Hill have been a couple since 1990, living together since 1992. Low, who has four adult children and two ex-husbands, had originally decided not to get married again. That commitment lasted until this summer’s Ontario Court Of Appeal decision, which made marrying Hill an option.

“The day the court decision came down, it was very, very clear to me that I wanted to legitimize the relationship in law,” says Low, 59, who is a palliative health nurse.

That meant planning a wedding for themselves. It’s an experience that’s new for many gay and lesbian people, who are rising to the challenge of participating in an ancient institution – and doing their best to make it their own.

Low and Hill held their late August ceremony outside their riverside home near Peterborough. The 65 guests were given a lily bulb to plant in a wedding flower bed to create a lasting memory of the ceremony; the couple calls their home Consider The Lilies.

“We had our old rings reworked but we left our original date of Feb 21, 1992 and added Aug 30, 2003,” says Low. As they exchanged rings the couple declared, “I have worn this ring for many years as a sign of our love and life together and I accept it now as a symbol of the vows we make today.”

Hill, 58 and a teacher, has two adult sons from a previous 22-year marriage. For her, having family present was important.

“What grace it is to have your son play the music for your entrance, your daughters-in-law sing in breath-taking harmony, your step-son read a passage from Carter Heyward and your other son propose a toast to the couple.”

For some, coming up with their ideal ceremony is a matter of religious negotiations. Steve Loweth and his partner of two years Lionel Ketola of Keswick had hoped for a November wedding at their North York Lutheran Church.

Although many Lutheran churches (including theirs) are affirming of gay and lesbian relationships, no policies have been developed to date and, after a letter from a group of bishops that same-sex weddings are not to be performed, their church did not approve the ceremony.

“Our pastor is very supportive personally, but we need to wait for the congregation to reach its own consensus on our request to marry,” says Ketola, a 40-year-old art therapist and chaplain.

The two are planning a small-scale wedding, including a wine and cheese reception in the parish hall followed by speeches and dancing. Ketola, a 39-year-old music publisher, says it won’t be an extravagant affair. “Low budget? Can you say BYOB?”

David Ball and Tim Hare, both 56, live in Easton, Pennsylvania, but married at Toronto City Hall after a long engagement – since 1976. Ball says the couple had a civil union in Vermont in 2000, but had always wanted to get married legally.

“When the opportunity presented itself, we took steps as quickly as we could to see legal recognition of our 27-year relationship.”

Their Toronto wedding was not a big event. They found their Canadian witnesses through a lesbian and gay listserv.

“We preferred to have a small, intimate service. For us, this event was very personal, spiritual – hence no need for the usual externals of lots of flowers, tuxes, hoopla. We found that having our two Canadian witnesses close by our sides, was particularly meaningful and personal,” says Ball, a director of pastoral care in a hospital.

Ball and Hare, who is an architect, are planning a large party on their 30th anniversary in 2006, similar to the one they held on their 25th anniversary.

Marcus Logan, 34, an administrator at Street Health in Waterdown, and Wayne Powell, 39, a freelance web designer, exchanged rings shortly after they got together 14 years ago, but never had a formal ceremony.

They married the week of the court decision, making it a snappy affair.

“I do all my political work in the Halton area so we went to Oakville to get our wedding licence, and were the first couple to do so,” says Logan.

The marriage was held at a civil marriage hall located in a senior’s centre in Guelph, and conducted by a United Church minister who wrote special vows for the couple.

As a result of the quick wedding, Powell and Logan are holding a reaffirmation event for 90 people at their home this month.

“Our parents are mutually relieved that neither are obligated to pay for the wedding,” says Powell. When asked about cost, Powell said $200; Logan said $2,000.

Others are ending up with something ritzier than they originally envisioned.

Ilana Weitzman, 28, and Jennifer Warren, 27, both writers and editors from Montreal, are planning an elegant civil union (legal under Quebec law) for this fall. Both sets of parents are footing the bill, which will likely be in the ballpark of $20,000.

“I have a big Jewish family; this is the big Jewish wedding,” Weitzman says. “It’s actually quite a conventional wedding reception. It doesn’t have to be rainbow flags and lavender ribbons.”

The ceremony itself will be held the day before at the courthouse, attended only by close family and friends, about 35 people.

The engagement rings were bought on Ebay and are white sapphire set in white gold; the wedding rings are diamond bands also set in white gold.

The following evening a formal, black-tie optional, reception will be held for about 130 people at an upscale hotel, and will include cocktails, a multi-course plated dinner and dancing to a DJ.

The women are both wearing floor-length evening gowns with a vintage look.

“We didn’t want to look like matched cake toppers with big poofy gowns,” says Weitzman.

Overall the couple wanted to avoid the sense of pressure many couples in Ontario felt because of the uncertainty about whether the court ruling will stand (there will likely be a court ruling in Quebec next year).

“A lot of people have rushed to do it quickly because they’re scared. Because we have civil union, we took time to plan. You can’t do a big wedding quickly. It’s just so much work,” says Weitzman. “We joke constantly that we don’t know how brides do this. We have two brides so we have an advantage. It makes it manageable.”