We sat down with Carter and Breken Elwood-Etherington, the winners of our 2012 contest for a wedding at Toronto Pride, to hear their thoughts about marriage, each other, and the experience of being wed in Toronto.
Q: How did the two of you meet?
Carter: We met at a party hosted by a mutual friend. The funny thing is we bonded over how we were each through with relationships and love, having both recently gotten out of relationships that ended badly. So it was this weird situation where we were both saying we never wanted to date again, but there was a definite chemistry between us.
Over a month passed before I broke down and got Breken’s email address. We were both traveling a lot for our jobs at the time so there was this period where we just sent emails back and forth, which was really sweet. It felt like we were courting and gave us a period to just get to know one another. It was exciting, without pressure.
Q: When did you decide to get married, and who proposed to whom?
Carter: Well, that is kind of a funny story. When we were both back in the same city, we agreed to meet face to face again and have a proper date. So we started with coffee and that went really well, and so we moved on to drinks and that went even better, and so we decided to have dinner.
Sitting at the table across from each other, I said to Breken, “You know someday I am going to marry you.” Breken literally burst out laughing; it was hilarious. It was just this feeling I had when I looked into his eyes. I knew he was the one.
Q: What made you decide to enter Tourism Toronto’s contest for a wedding at Toronto Pride?
Breken: We were walking back from dinner with friends and we saw this huge cake in the middle of 8th Avenue. We were all curious and walked over to see what was going on. Our friends encouraged and prodded us, and I said, “I’m game if you are” and Carter replied, “You know we are going to win.” So up on top of the cake we went.
It was a really fun experience and totally memorable. That picture is still one of our favorites. Joy still felt today.
Q: What do you think is the secret to a happy marriage?
Carter: It helps to be best friends and truly like the other person. Breken once said to me when we were dating: “You annoy me less than anyone else I know.” Which if you think about it is a really good thing to say about someone you’re spending the rest of your life with.
That and I think having things you enjoy doing together, as well as things you do alone or with your own friends, is important. So many people tend to lose their identities in relationships; we continue to work hard to try and make sure we both have time to pursue individual interests – it keeps us interesting. Neither of us wants to be the other but we appreciate what we both give and what we are together. We try and continue to learn from the other, and it is not always easy, but the payoff is good.
Q: Breken, what’s your favourite thing about Carter?
Breken: My favorite thing about Carter is grease fires. I know that sounds bizarre, but I love it when something crazy happens and disrupts his plan for perfectness. He is amazing at most everything he does and then something human will happen, like he’ll forget he put something on the stove or will wash something that should be dry cleaned. He gets upset, he feels so deeply. He not only lives life, he feels life every day.
Carter is very connected to his feelings and because of that he is very kind. He has this compassion and thoughtfulness toward life and others. It is unbelievable how he takes the pain of the world in and then gives it back as kindness. He is always striving to make things better for others and it sincerely gives him joy. Who does that every day?
Q: Carter, what’s your favourite thing about Breken?
Carter: Breken is fiercely loyal, the most dedicated, hardworking, devoted person I have ever known, and I love him deeply for that. If you are ever in trouble or need support, you want Breken on your team. He is a force to be reckoned with and I adore that about him, as do all his friends, his family. Breken is the one who would stand beside you and fight the dragon or whatever issue you might face. His strength, loyalty, and courage are a continual inspiration to me. I adore him.
Q: What was it like for you when your home state of New York passed the Marriage Equality Act?
Breken: Frankly, when we were growing up or coming out as gay it was something we never imagined, to get married – that was never going to happen. In the past five years we have seen such amazing advancements in marriage equality it is head spinning – in a good way!
We are so thankful to Governor Cuomo and his partner Sandra Lee; he signed it into law, but she was an amazing influence. New York is at the forefront in leading the country to what is the tipping point of equality. It meant so much to come back to our home state from our marriage in Canada and know that the amazing experience we had was recognized by our state and now our nation.
Q: Do you think we will see even more U.S. states following in New York’s (and Canada’s) footsteps in the near future?
Carter: It is inevitable, it will happen. We are on the side of justice – what can be so scary about committing to the person you love? There is only the fear and hate of the past. We are living in a new day and we are both so happy to have been able to share our commitment in such a public way.
The day after DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) was struck down we saw one of our wedding photos posted as the headline on the Huffington Post that said “the most amazing love.” It is so true; nothing is more amazing than to be married to the person who you are literally willing to die for. If we scare you or our commitment is threatening then all we can say is sorry, there is more recognized love in the world. If you disagree, you might want to rethink what truly matters in life.
Q: How did it feel to have a million people cheer you on as you got married at Toronto Pride?
Breken: Nothing could have prepared us for that day. Foremost we had supporters like the Windsor Arms Hotel (who treated us like celebrities – many of the staff we are still in contact with), Air Canada who flew us first class to Toronto, and Tourism Toronto who were like a second family to us – celebrating with us, they were as happy as we were to get married. Those partners who came together to make a very special moment in our lives happen is something we will always be grateful for.
Again we say thank you for making a dream come true and being our heroes. The people in the parade, truly ineradicable – like the biggest hug and joy you could ever know. To have more than a million people cheering you on, while celebrating and seeing this amazing person standing before you that you are committing your life to … well, it still brings tears (and all to the soundtrack of Whitney Houston’s “My Love is Your Love”).
Carter: Also, the fact that our friends flew to Toronto to join us at the parade and were there with us – not a person in our wedding party could believe the love, celebration, and joy they felt from Toronto. One of the most amazing experiences and we are so thankful. You think of having 100 friends, but never one million plus.
We have the pictures of the wedding and the parade as a screen saver on our computer and it continues to play snapshots of that day. It is just something that you never get tired of seeing – joy!
Q: What do you like best about Toronto?
Breken: We both loved Toronto prior to getting married there. It was an easy fit for us, it felt like home. Toronto is this amazing blend of New York, Chicago, Montreal, and San Francisco. It is an amazing city of diversity and beauty – great shopping, parks, food, and good living – a café society with brains. We both agree we would love to live in Toronto if the opportunity presented itself.
Q: Would you recommend that other gay and lesbian couples get married in Toronto?
Carter: Without a doubt. Just last week I was talking to friends in Texas and they were looking for a “destination wedding” and we said Toronto! What is not to love about the city? The amazing equality laws the country has had in place for more than 10 years, the hospitality – the place is perfection. We highly recommend the Windsor Arms Hotel; nothing can be more amazing than the care they give to every guest.
We hope to celebrate one of our wedding anniversaries in Toronto. We want to come back to live or just celebrate and recall that very special day when the city came together. It was Canada Day and Pride … and our wedding day. JOY!
God bless Toronto and thank you!