TORONTO, Sept. 17 — A married gay couple on their way from Canada to a human rights conference in Georgia were not allowed to enter the United States today because the two men insisted on filling out a single Customs clearance form declaring themselves a family.
"We were not going to divorce ourselves in order to enter a country," Kevin Bourassa, a 45-year-old gay activist, said in a telephone interview. "We could have gone in as single individuals, signed two forms, but to do that would be an affront to our dignity and human rights."
Mr. Bourassa said he and his partner, Joe Varnell, first approached the United States immigration desk at Pearson Airport in Toronto and an officer stamped their forms. But when they went to a Customs agent for final clearance, the agent would not accept a joint declaration.
"He said same-sex marriage is not recognized by the United States of America and we would have to enter the country as single individuals," Mr. Bourassa said. A supervisor agreed when Mr. Bourassa objected.
Mr. Bourassa said that on three occasions in the last year he and Mr. Varnell, 34, a bank Internet manager, were able to enter the United States after signing joint forms.
An American official in Canada said United States law was governed by the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."
Beth Poisson, press attaché at the United States Embassy in Ottawa, said, "The Customs agent was simply upholding U.S. law."
Same-sex marriage has been legal in Ontario since June, when the province's top appeals court ruled that current federal marriage law was discriminatory, making Canada the third country, after the Netherlands and Belgium, to allow same-sex marriage. A British Columbia appeals court followed with a similar opinion shortly afterward.
Mr. Bourassa said he and Mr. Varnell were on their way to a conference sponsored by the Gill Foundation at a winery outside Atlanta. Conference organizers will now try to set up a video link so they can join the meeting electronically.
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company