Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Attitudes have changed since gay weddings were legalized

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Michelle Ritchot (left) and Stefphany Cholakis got  married the same day same-sex marriage was declared legal in Manitoba.

MEG CRANE PHOTO Enlarge Image

Michelle Ritchot (left) and Stefphany Cholakis got married the same day same-sex marriage was declared legal in Manitoba.

Michelle Ritchot and Stefphany Cholakis married each other twice.

The first time, in 1999, didn't technically count, and they even feared protesters might disrupt the ceremony at Augustine United Church.

"At the time, my dad was living and he was the only one in my family who accepted it. The rest did not," said Cholakis. "Some of my siblings were afraid that if they went to a church where gays were, someone was going to touch them or say the wrong things. So, very homophobic, which was very sad."

The second time the couple married, they helped make Manitoba history. They were part of a landmark lawsuit against the provincial government that made same-sex marriage legal. This year marks the 10th anniversary of that decision.

The same day Manitoba's Court of Queen's Bench handed down its ruling, Sept. 16, 2004, Ritchot and Cholakis joined a group of people at the Royal Crown revolving restaurant to celebrate.

"We got married over lunch," said Ritchot, who couldn't wait any longer to legally tie the knot with Cholakis.

After Manitoba legalized same-sex marriage, there was a predictable spike in the number of couples tying the knot. Data released by Manitoba Vital Statistics show the number of same-sex marriages spiked in 2006 when 102 couples got hitched. Since then, the number of same-sex marriages has levelled off, even dropping last year to what may be its lowest level, 44 as of September.

When Ritchot and Cholakis were first married in 1999, Ritchot said her family was a little torn. Some thought it was weird, but when her brother, Fred, said he was going to the wedding, the rest of the family became supportive.

"We admitted it to each other afterwards, but when we had our traditional wedding in '99 we were quite afraid that there would be protesters or, you know, something negative like that happening there," said Ritchot. "But there wasn't anything like that, even though some people from the church might not have liked that we were getting married."

Adam Pimentel's and Kirk Chase's recent nuptials suggest how much attitudes have changed in the decade since same-sex marriage was legalized. The couple had been dating for more than four years when they tied the knot at The Forks in late summer. They weren't worried about protesters or much family objection, although when they meet someone who doesn't seem accepting of gay marriage they usually don't mention their relationship.

"I had my old Catholic priest from Sunday school wish us good luck," said Pimentel, who said the gesture was unexpected.

"It's never been an issue with my family," added Chase. "My family was just shocked."

Still, Pimentel thinks his grandma doesn't know he is gay. Ultimately, he and his mom decided not to invite her to the wedding because they believed finding out he was gay and "having a big, gay wedding" at the same time might have been too much for her.

The most surprising reaction they encountered was people not knowing they were allowed to marry.

"I was really surprised by how many people didn't know that you could get married in Canada," said Pimentel. "That shocked me more than anything. It was a huge deal and yet nobody really knew."

megcranedesigns@gmail.com graemecoleman.92@gmail.com

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 16, 2014 A7

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