On Oct. 7, surrounded by about 160 friends and family, bridesmaids in eggplant-purple dresses and groomsmen in grey suits, a young couple said their wedding vows at the Amber Valley Community Hall.
That “beautiful” ceremony – complete with Converse sneakers and a forgotten-ring foible – made Caterina and Keisha Greentree one of the few same-sex couples who have taken their marriage vows in Athabasca.
“It was awesome,” Caterina said. “It was perfect. Everyone was just so happy. You could just – when you’re looking at the pictures, everyone’s just hugest smiles and crying.”
Caterina has lived in Athabasca since she was 12, moving from British Columbia. Keisha moved to the area from St. Albert when she was nine years old.
The two met when Caterina was 23 and Keisha was 18. They said they became best friends after coaching cheerleading together.
“Best friends forever, then just – we were like, wait, we like each other more than just friends,” Caterina said, adding that they came out together and have been a couple for three years.
She also said her family was shocked when she came out.
Keisha said while some members of her family were surprised, her grandmother was not.
“My grandma was like – “duh, like forever,” she said with a laugh.
Both women said they wanted to get married at home rather than in a place that did not have as much meaning to them.
“It wouldn’t have felt the same if we got married in Edmonton or something, because this is home,” Keisha said. “So one day when we have our kids here, we can say, ‘Your mommies got married here,’ (rather than) go to a random place in Edmonton. It felt better – more personal. I’m glad we didn’t get married anywhere else.”
Caterina and Keisha said the minister who conducted their marriage was a United Church minister from southern Alberta. Keisha said it was her godmother’s father.
“When he met us, he told us he was one of the main ones that helped his church fight for same sex marriage,” she said. “He’s retired, but he really wanted to do ours for us.”
Monica Rosborough, minister for the Athabasca United Church, said any couple can approach the minister for a marriage, and there is no definition of couple. She said the decision about the marriage is made by the church council, and the minister may ask that the couple do some form of marriage preparation or counselling.
“To date, the (Athabasca) United Church has allowed ministers to conduct two different wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples,” she said. “And hopefully, one day, that minister will be me getting to do one.”
Former United Church minister Bruce Jackson said in an email the first same gender marriage in Athabasca that he knew of was on the same weekend that Reverend Gary Patterson became the first openly gay moderator of the United Church of Canada in 2012.
“There were no protests – and no negative comments that I was aware of,” Jackson said.
He also said he thinks the community has become far more open and accepting.
“With time the attitude within the community is more welcoming and persons can be more honest of who they truly are,” he said. “Families are not afraid to discuss and share the love for all members of their families and friends.”
In a response to questions from the Athabasca Advocate, Athabasca Reformed Congregation Pastor Al Plat said that all are welcome to worship with the congregation.
“We believe the Bible tells us that all humans are male and female image bearers of God,” he wrote.
He also said their denomination, the Reformed Church in America, teaches that Christian marriage is a joyful covenanting between a man and a woman, and that they are a part of a denomination seeking to be obedient to Jesus’ teachings as they understand them, and they live within the constitutions of that body.
“I would say, ‘as we go out from our church to live in the world, we Christians need to live as ones who’ve been forgiven, and live that way in our homes, in our community and in our work places. We are called to show the same compassion to others that we ourselves have received from Christ,’” Plat said.
St. Gabriel’s Catholic Church Father Paul Kannanaikal said same-sex marriage is not accepted according to the Bible and the teachings of the church, and there has never been a same-sex marriage at a Catholic church anywhere in the world.
“But at the same time, as a part of showing mercy and the love of God, and according to Jesus, we – have to show mercy to the people,” he said. “We are not judging them. We are praying for them; we show our love and compassion for them.”
Caterina and Keisha have already taken their honeymoon to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.
Since their return, they joined with Caterina’s brother, Tristan Greentree, in starting a lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) support group in Athabasca. The first meeting was held Nov. 1, and 10 people showed up.
“In big cities, you have that support there, so people are able to be who they are. Then small towns, where there’s not much support and you don’t know where to go … there’s no safe spaces,” Keisha said when the group formed. “Even if this group is just a safe space for people, then that’s way better than what there was before: nothing.”
Both Caterina and Keisha said their wedding was free of negative commentary, adding there are far more supportive people in their lives than those putting them down.
“No one said anything bad,” Caterina said. “It was just – (they) thought it was beautiful.”
She also said she thinks it is important to show that same-sex relationships are normal, and that it is OK to come out of the closet.
“Everyone said it was one of the best weddings they’ve went to,” Caterina said. “There was so much love. You could just feel all the love. It was awesome.”
As for advice for other people toying with the idea of a same-sex marriage in the region?
“Just do it,” Keisha said. “I’d be like, don’t be nervous about what other people say, because it’s amazing how much actually – how much support you get.”