Roger Thibault and Theo Wouters remember the day of their civil union like it was yesterday.
They showed up at the Montreal courthouse in a white limousine and were greeted by a sea of people — many of whom were complete strangers.
“When we got into the hall of the courthouse, all offices emptied out, they were all on the balcony watching what was happening,” Theo Wouters said.
“It was unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
On July 18, 2002, the pair became the first same-sex couple in Quebec to be legally joined by civil union.
It wasn’t until two years later that same-sex couples could legally wed in the province.
The couple, who had been together for 29 years, says it was important for them at the time to be joined by the union, because it gave them many of the same legal benefits as married couples.
“The marriage gave us equal rights so it was very important for us and for the gay community,” said Wouters.
Patrick Desmarais, president of Montreal’s Fondation Émergence, which fights against homophobia and transphobia, says the couple’s union was historic.
He says it also had an immense impact on the LGBTQ2 community.
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“A lot of things happened since 20 years, but that event needs to celebrated because that opened the eyes of society,” said Desmarais.
But Wouters and Thibault say the road to their civil union wasn’t easy.
In the years prior, they drew attention for fighting alleged homophobia among their neighbours on Montreal’s West Island.
Though they say things have gotten better, they’ve recently filed another complaint with the human rights commission.
“Look, I’m 80 years old, Roger is 76,” said Wouters. “We would like to have peace in our old age.”
They do find peace in spending time in their garden, by looking at photos of their exciting reception that followed their ceremony.
They say to mark their special day, they’ll celebrate in a more mellow way.
“We have a little filet mignon because filet mignon is so expensive, so it will be special. And I’m trying to get a strawberry cake of some kind,” Wouters laughed.