Published on Thurs June 26 2014
More than 110 couples can now claim they had a wedding worthy of a celebrity–complete with a red-carpet entrance, media coverage, a prestigious guest list and a landmark castle in the backdrop.
But that wasn’t what made the mass Grand Pride wedding a signature event of the World Pride celebrations, at Casa Loma on Thursday special.
For many, who flew to Toronto from countries like Australia, Taiwan and Ghana, where same-sex marriage is illegal, it was a dream come true to finally be able to openly celebrate their love and tie the knot with the full support of the community at the largest LGBTQ Pride wedding ever in North America.
For Nora, 64, and Erna, 66, it marked a significant milestone in their 40-year-old love story.
The pair met at a bus stop by their university in the Philippines. They were “secret lovers,” who were eventually forced apart by the circumstances.
“(It was a) very Catholic country, very conservative families both of ours, and so I left the country after graduation. We kept in touch because we really cared for each other,” said Nora, now a social worker in Toronto. “I got married, I have two sons, (I) tried that because that’s what everybody says you’re supposed to do when you’re a woman … to get married to a man.”
Nora said they tried to stay away from each other for years until, eventually, they decided it was time to fight for their own rights as a couple years after moving to Canada – one of the 16 countries in the world where same-sex marriage is legal.
Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam, Toronto council’s only openly gay member, was joined by Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and many others to celebrate the event.
Wong-Tam, who got a standing ovation as she reached the stage, was just one of the more than one thousand guests who couldn’t help but get emotional when the 110 couples collectively said their “I do’s” after hearing officiants from 12 denominations give their blessings to the couples.
“I know I was weeping and certainly I recognized when I turned around there were a lot of teary eyes in the audience. For those who have been struggling with identity and acceptance, having this many people come together and celebrate them and their decision to join in life and matrimony, I think is just absolutely beautiful,” she said. “And in many ways, to me, it represents the very best of Toronto and Canadian values.”
With Liberty Group Entertainment, the organization which runs Casa Loma, footing the roughly $100,000 bill – excluding the cost of Ontario marriage licences – it took a huge burden off the couples’ shoulders.
“I think this is possibly the easiest wedding in the history of weddings,” said Helen Tweddle, a Toronto resident who arrived with her soon-to-be wife, Jennifer Neales, in a Rolls-Royce.
“It’s sort of everything we kind of dreamed we’d love if we could even make it possible financially,” Neales added. “It’s like a fairytale, it’s so amazing.”