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  • Mass gay wedding in Toronto draws crowds

    Australians Richard Laslett and Collin Gunther waited 37 years to say “I do” to one another.

    The couple finally got their chance on Thursday in Toronto, at a mass wedding that brought 115 gay and lesbian couples together, as part of the city's World Pride Week.

    The pairs from around the world gathered in the garden of a midtown Neo-Gothic castle to “celebrate the power of love”, Toronto interim Mayor Norm Kelly said.

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    “After a while, you think it's never going to happen,” Gunther told AFP moments before the men exchanged vows. “You settle into a relationship,” added Laslett.

    Swept up in the moment while travelling abroad and confident that their marriage will someday be recognised back home, they took the plunge.

    “We'll call ourselves husband and husband, even though our marriage won't be recognised when we go home (to Melbourne in Australia),” said Laslett.

    Worldwide, 15 countries now allow same-sex marriage.

    Canadian gays and lesbians have been tying the knot since June 2005, when a series of court decisions forced Ottawa to legalise same-sex marriages on the basis that denying them was discriminatory.

    In Casa Loma's magnificent gardens, couples dressed in white gowns and black tuxedos sipped champagne from flutes and chatted with guests among the flowers and water fountains, under a hot sun.

    More than 200 couples were originally expected by organisers hoping to break a world record, but many were unable to arrange travel or obtain a local marriage licence in time for the event.

    “This is not a pretend wedding. It's the real thing,” said host Nick Di Donato.

    Couples travelled from as far as Australia, Ghana and Taiwan to wed.

    “It's an opportunity for them to publicly express their love and commitment to each other,” Di Donato said, even if their marriages may not be recognised or legal in their home countries.

    The interfaith ceremony integrated elements from 12 denominations, including Judaism, Buddhism, Paganism, Anglicanism, First Nations and Islam.

    The event also marked the first time a Sikh minister has presided over a gay marriage, according to Yogi Akal. No Sikhs, however, were married at the event.

    “I'm very excited,” Akal told AFP. “I'm having a good time. I hope all of the couples here are having a good time. But you can't do this in a lot of places - you'd be killed.”

    The Sikh faith does not specifically decry homosexuality, “but there are personal and cultural biases that exist”, Akal added.

    Nevertheless, “religion doesn't belong in the bedroom”, he said.

    “I think it's about time the world celebrated us and this kind of relationship. Because we are no different from anybody else. But we have to do something like this to make this statement to the whole world that our relationships are just legitimate,” said Nora, who said her vows at the mass ceremony.

    El-Farouk Khaki, a gay imam who also took part, said he has faced discrimination along several avenues.

    A heterosexual couple at his mosque, for instance, were fine with being married by a woman, but not a gay man.

    But at a ceremony in the US state of Ohio, he said: “Evangelicals had a problem with me being Muslim, not with me being gay.”

    On the other hand, he said: “Some conservative Muslims also embrace gay marriage, because they believe gay men should not be exempt from the rules of Islam: everyone must be married to have sex,” he said.

    Breaking in, his partner Troy Jackson suddenly got down on one knee and proposed to Khaki.

    “I just called my mother (in Eastern Canada). She screamed, and congratulated us,” Jackson said later. - Sapa-AFP

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  • Bride-to-be says "I do" to her dream dress thanks to I Will competition

    AN EXCITED bride-to-be was able to say yes to her dream wedding dress after winning an I Will Wedding Fair competition.

    Lauren Hirons, from Alvechurch, said she still could not believe she had won her choice of stunning wedding dress from The Bridal Boutique, Lowesmoor, Worcester after entering the free prize draw at the spring fair.

    The 29-year-old has picked out a stunning gown but is keeping it under wraps until her wedding to Leon Southern on April 25, 2015.

    The couple will tie the knot at Malvern Registry Office, Great Malvern and enjoy a reception at the Mount Pleasant Hotel in Malvern

    Miss Hirons, who works at Severn Trent as a technical assistant, said: "It was a lot more than I was planning on spending on my dress so it was really nice not having to worry about that aspect.

    Evesham Journal: Lauren Hirons, winner of a £1,000 wedding dress, has a tiara fitted by Suzanne Bacon-Lewis at Bridal Boutique, Lowesmoor. Picture by Nick Toogood 2114606704.

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    "I still can't believe it and I probably won't believe it until I am wearing it on our wedding day.

    “The ladies at The Bridal Boutique were really helpful and down to earth. I had some ideas about what kind of dress I wanted beforehand but I was happy to be open-minded and try on new things.

    “Winning the competition has made looking for a dress a lot more enjoyable – it has been a really nice experience.”

    She said the dress she opted for "ticked all the boxes" and was excited to wear it.

    Miss Hirons and Mr Southern met at a leaving party for a mutual friend who was emigrating to Australia.

    “I met my future husband and my best friend left the country in the same week – it was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster.”

    The pair clicked instantly over a shared love of cycling and walking and soon began dating.

    After a year together, Leon surprised her with a beautiful, specially-designed, sapphire engagement ring at the top of Mount Snowden in June 2013.

    Taking inspiration from their shared hobby, the big day will also be themed around cycling.

    Personal touches will include a tandem design on their stationery and their wedding cake will be topped with a bride and groom sitting astride a tandem.

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  • Saint Lucia prepares for second annual wedding symposium

    Saint Lucia will host a roster of destination wedding experts during the second annual “LOVE Elevated” Wedding Symposium. Noted speakers will address topics ranging from “Creating Bridal Bliss! What a Bride Expects From a Destination Wedding” to “How to Brand Yourself/How to Close the Sale.” Attendees can also observe a live chef demonstration by Saint Lucia’s Culinary Ambassador, Nina Compton, first runner-up and fan favorite in the most recent “Top Chef New Orleans.”

    Guest speakers include Shri Lildharrie, global travel director at XO Group; Jennifer Doncsecz, owner and president of VIP Vacations Inc.; Dawn Butcher, customer experience manager at Kuoni Travel Group; Julie Albaugh, editor of Wedding Market and return speakers Marsha-Ann Brown, director of romance, Sandals Resorts and Charles Oster, director of sales and marketing for MyWedding.com.

    The weekend also includes site visits to idyllic resorts and hotels around the island, a showcase of island wedding vendors, and the opportunity for attendees to observe a sunset wedding. A picturesque sunset cruise and cocktail reception from the southern side of the island with views of the iconic UNESCO World Heritage Pitons round out weekend activities.

    Saint Lucia prepares for second annual wedding symposium

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    Priced at US $150 per person, the five-day symposium includes all seminars, social events, site inspections and transportation from select hotels.

    “After the island’s natural beauty was elegantly displayed on the most recent season of ABC’s The Bachelor, we look to continue this special year of romance during the second annual Wedding Symposium,” said Louis Lewis, director of tourism for the Saint Lucia Tourist Board. “We aim to solidify this event as an industry leader and seek to attract innovators and frontrunners of the destination wedding market.”

    “LOVE Elevated” will be led by a roster of local and international wedding experts including:

    • Charles Oster, director of sales and marketing for MyWedding.com, tripled sales since his arrival at MyWedding.com, which has been recognized by Inc. Magazine for sales growth and job creation. Charles speaks to groups of business professionals all around the world teaching them to effectively communicate, market, and sell their offerings and will specifically speak about tapping into the multi-million dollar wedding industry during the symposium.

    • Dawn Butcher, customer experience manager at Kuoni Travel Group, manages Kuoni’s support teams to assist in creating customized special occasion holidays. Dawn will present on wedding trends in the United Kingdom.

    • Jennifer Doncsecz, owner and president of VIP Vacations Inc., is a nationally recognized travel expert specializing in Caribbean vacations, destination weddings and honeymoons. As owner and president of VIP Vacations Inc., Jennifer has distinguished herself as one of the top travel agents in America. Having received numerous industry awards, Jennifer uses her position to educate consumers as well as travel professionals and will teach attendees, “How to Brand Yourself/How to Close the Sale.”

    • Julie Albaugh, editor of Wedding Market, hosts the #WeddingMarket chat on Twitter every Wednesday. Some of her #WeddingMarket guests have included Preston Bailey, Colin Cowie, David Tutera, Randy Fenoli, Sharon Sacks and representatives from Sandals, The Knot, WeddingWire Cake Boss and Disney Weddings. Wedding Market was selected as the third best social media influencer in the wedding industry by Wed Biz Media. Julie will discuss social media during “How Brides Are Integrating Technology/Social Media into the Planning and Execution of Their Weddings.”

    • Marsha-Ann Brown, director of romance, Sandals Resorts, is the ultimate source for planning the perfect destination wedding in the Caribbean and she will bestow her knowledge during, “Creating Bridal Bliss! What a Bride Expects From a Destination Wedding.”

    • Shri Lildharrie, global travel director at XO Group, is responsible for leading all sales initiatives for major travel partners, properties and destinations worldwide. Over the past few years he has worked with most of the top destinations in the Caribbean, numerous U.S. hot spots such as Miami and Las Vegas, and the majority of leading hospitality companies including Starwood and Disney. During “LOVE Elevated,” Mr. Lildharrie will present the latest on U.S. Destination Wedding News.

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