Gay couples cross border to Canada to say 'I do'

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The Independent US

"We were in the middle of Canada, who knows where," recalled Mr Buranosky the next evening, happily settled - if still a bit bleary - with Mr Lazar for the weekend in a luxury bed and breakfast hotel in Toronto. "We kidded that if we could get through the night, then we'd be all right. It was our test."

The two men were honouring a long-held tradition of Americans disaffected with their own country's politics, trekking north of the border for sanctuary. Loyalists to the Crown did it by the tens of thousands during the Revolutionary War. Black slaves sought refuge before the Civil War and emancipation. More recently, anti-Vietnam War activists dodged the draft.

Now Canada is attracting a new kind of refugee from the United States, homosexual couples who want to say "I do". Beginning three years ago, provinces began approving same-sex marriage bills. Then the national parliament followed suit and last month Canada became one of only four countries, with Belgium, the Netherlands and now Spain, to give gays the right to marry.

That spurred Mr Buranosky, 32, a television producer, and Mr Lazar, 31, an internet consultant, into action. Last weekend was a reconnaissance trip for the big event on 1 October. It will take place in this same B&B, the Gloucester Inn, an old Toronto mansion that once belonged to Sir Richard Branson.

"It was important for us that it was the whole of Canada that was making it legal," explained Mr Buranosky, sitting in the reception room where he and Mr Lazar will soon exchange vows and rings. "It really gave us the sense that for Canada gay marriage is something that's permanent and won't go away."

It is love before politics or protest that has motivated the two men to seek some means of giving legitimacy to their three and a half year relationship. "I want to be able to call Paul 'husband' without it sounding cheesy," Mr Lazar said. "I wanted him to be my husband officially - at least some place."

But the politics can hardly be ignored. It irks both men deeply that that "some place" will be Canada only. When the two return home to Chicago, nothing, in American law, will have changed. "That is what really gets to me," Mr Lazar admits. They plan to start filing taxes jointly when they get home, as well as separately, just to try to make a point.

America is very far from catching up with Canada in accepting gay marriage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts legalised it in 2003, but steps are now afoot to overturn the law in that state. In last November's elections, 11 US states passed ballot initiatives explicitly restricting marriage to heterosexuals.

To marry in Massachusetts at least one of the couple must live there. Which really leaves only Canada. Its parliament has passed an all-comers law that says gays and lesbians from anywhere in the world can tie the knot here. Ontario was the first province to legalise gay marriage and Toronto has become an unofficial wedding capital for gays travelling from as far away as Australia.

"We are not seeing quite as many as we did at the beginning," says Lois Code, director of the wedding chamber at City Hall, "but they are still very plentiful."

The chamber is open for weddings four days a week and gay couples attend almost every day, she says. The majority are from the United States, outnumbering even Canadians.

Ask couples such as Mr Lazar and Mr Buranosky whether making the long journey to join in a contract that no one at home will even recognise and you know how they will answer: it is for their love, and also because they are contributing to the fight for gay rights. "If something is offered to you as a gay person it's important that you take it," Mr Buranosky said. "It is the best way to keep moving forward."