Happily Ever After: Revisiting 2 Couples Who Fought For Gay Marriage In N.B. | CBC News

“Would you still love me if I was a worm?”

The question went viral on TikTok recently. Young people, posing the scenario to their partners, were met with bewilderment, suspicion and calm certainty — “Of course I would.” If tested beyond the trend, though, how many of those couples really would love each other in spineless form?

There’s no question about the answer when it comes to Catherine Sidney and Bridget McGale, a couple in Saint John’s north end who have been together for 43 years. They were one of four couples, including Wayne Harrison and Ross Leavitt, who participated in the 2005 legal challenge to allow same-gender marriage in New Brunswick.

For two women who fought for the right to marry each other, loving in difficult circumstances is a gift they’ve already given each other.

“It was harder for us, who fought a lot longer,” Catherine said. “You work harder at it.”

Bridget and Catherine on their wedding day. They’d joined the 2005 legal challenge in New Brunswick before getting engaged. ‘Do you even plan to get married after all this?’ the lawyer asked Catherine over the phone. ‘Guess I better ask,’ Catherine remembers saying. She bought a dozen roses and showed up at Bridget’s office. (Submitted by Catherine Sidney and Bridget McGale)Even after the federal Liberal government introduced its same-sex marriage bill in the House of Commons in February of 2005, it still took a court case to get the legal right to marry in New Brunswick.

Bridget and Catherine had a covenant marriage service at their church, a formal declaration they would spend the rest of their lives together. But by 2005, they’d been together for more than two decades and wanted a legal marriage because their status as a common-law couple meant they had fewer rights, especially when it came to health care and their wills.

They went to Service New Brunswick to ask for a marriage licence. They said the young woman at the desk wanted to give it to them, but she had to turn them away. Catherine and Bridget weren’t angry — they knew they had to be formally rejected to participate in a legal challenge against the province.

The employee, though, was disappointed.

“Don’t worry,” Catherine told her. “You’ll be part of history.”

WATCH | Catherine and Bridget tell the story of their engagement:

See what four decades of love looks likeCatherine Sidney and Bridget McGale were one of four couples who participated in a 2005 legal challenge to get New Brunswick to recognize gay marriage. They spoke with CBC News from a relative’s home in Jasper, Ontario.

Their love story goes back to the fall of 1980.

Catherine was the comptroller at a Holiday Inn in Saint John, gone now. Bridget worked at the front desk.

Coworkers, friends, and then a couple, sharing their relationship with their parents was an important next step. 

Catherine, slightly older than Bridget, said she could have been jailed back when she’d had her first same-gender relationship.

Homosexuality was decriminalized in Canada in 1969, and while prison was no longer a risk by the time Catherine and Bridget were together, losing their families was. But hiding would be worse, Catherine said.

“We had to navigate through my parents, who weren’t enamoured with the idea,” Bridget said. “But we stayed the course.”

Bridget’s parents came around, even giving them the down payment for their home.

On June 23, 2005, Justice Judy Clendening ruled that same-gender couples in New Brunswick could marry.

Catherine and Bridget returned to their new friend at Service New Brunswick and got the licence. They were married on July 10, 2005.

Wayne and Ross are pictured here in 1991. (Submitted by Wayne Harrison and Ross Leavitt)Like Catherine and Bridget, Wayne and Ross met at work. They became friends, then roommates and finally partners, spending the first 11 years of their relationship in the closet. This fall, they’ll have been together for 40 years.

“I liked his personality and his gentleness,” Wayne said. “But he hesitated for a while.”

“Then I saw the light,” Ross said. 

They were no strangers to activism by the time they joined the 2005 court challenge. They’d helped organize Saint John’s first Pride parade in 2003 and often took people “to task,” as Wayne described their advocacy work, standing up against homophobia.

They got married in Toronto, where it was legalized in 2003, but their marriage certificate wasn’t recognized in New Brunswick.

Wayne Harrison and Ross Leavitt, one of four couples who fought in court for the legal right to marry, have been together for almost 40 years. Their relationship advice? Strong communication and honour your love for each other in everything you do, even when you’re apart. (Submitted by Wayne Harrison and Ross Leavitt)”You do want to marry me, right?” Ross remembers asking Wayne on the way to city hall, where they would get their marriage licence and cross out the word bride, replacing it with groom. 

“It wasn’t as romantic as it could have been,” Wayne said.

But as they stood together in a chapel reading their vows, the sun suddenly came through the window and shone down on them. They took it as a good sign. How hard is it to sway the sun after growing up with a father who believed it was better to be dead than to be gay?

Wayne had no expectation his father would come around and when he finally came out to him over the phone, he was prepared to be disowned. But Wayne’s mother had died recently, and his father had undergone a change of heart.

“You’re my son and I love you,” Wayne’s father told him. 

Tapley Manor, the home of Bridget and Catherine in Saint John. (Submitted by Bridget McGale and Catherine Sidney)If someone walked into Catherine and Bridget’s life today, that person would see flowers and a beautiful home lovingly renovated.

Theirs is a life of candlelight and fancy napkins, dinner parties and friends, days spent snowshoeing and vacations in Paris. Classical music is always playing in their home, Tapley Manor, which they renovated inch by inch, where they grew a garden, and where they walk their dog.

On the breakfast table with the fine china sits their Book of Days, filled with moments from their lives.

“A motto that we’ve lived with for a long time is to make the ordinary extraordinary,” Catherine said.

And, going back to the TikTok question, would Catherine still love Bridget if she were a worm?

Catherine pauses before answering. Would she be a well-dressed worm?

Bridget answers, “I’d have eyelashes. Are you kidding me?”

They joke about aerating the garden, about how Bridget wouldn’t have to weed because Catherine would be the strongest worm, showing up every day and being the most dedicated worm in the garden.

“I love her. I just love her,” Bridget said.

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