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Wedding bells at Toronto gay pride celebrations

Debbie Stokes, left, and Cindy Williams, from Georgia, celebrate Friday after their marriage at Toronto's city hall.
Debbie Stokes, left, and Cindy Williams, from Georgia, celebrate Friday after their marriage at Toronto's city hall.

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TORONTO, Ontario (Reuters) -- Toronto's wedding registry office will open this weekend for the first time in its history to issue marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples who want to take advantage of Canada's recently changed marriage laws.

The city has already issued 225 marriage licenses for same-sex couples and expects hundreds more to tie the knot this weekend. It has received about 15 inquiries a day from around the world since June 10, when an Ontario court set aside the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman as unconstitutional.

About a million people were expected to visit Toronto for Gay Pride this week, which finishes with a parade Sunday.

Brad Ross, a spokesman with the city of Toronto, said 25 of the 225 gay marriage licenses issued so far have gone to U.S. couples and some couples have applied from as far as Europe, China, Cayman Islands, Israel and the West Indies.

Ross said the city will also keep its marriage chapel open over the weekend. It is making two meeting rooms available for those who wish to marry there if the chapel is occupied.

Heterosexual couples are also welcome to get licenses or tie the knot over the weekend, he said.

"It's a very convenient time for people. Everybody is in the same place (for Gay Pride Week)," said Rev. Brent Hawkes of the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto, the majority of whose members are gay or lesbian.

He will perform six weddings this weekend and plans to marry his partner John on their 25th anniversary, in three years time.

A landmark ruling by an Ontario provincial court June 10 included homosexual unions into the definition of marriage.

The federal government signaled its acceptance of gay marriage a week later when it decided not to appeal the provincial court's decision.

"We are now full participants in Canadian society. Apartheid is gone," said Bruce Walker, a lawyer in Toronto who plans to marry his partner of 26 years in the next six months. "It has been a 26-year struggle."

South of the border, the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this week struck down a Texas law banning sodomy between same-sex couples, in effect ending all anti-sodomy laws in the 13 states where they still exist.

But gay marriages are not allowed in the United States. Vermont allows gay civil unions but not full marriage.

"I am amazed to live in such a beautiful country," Walker said of Canada. "It is beyond my wildest imagination that it happened so quickly."

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