As soon as Mallory Arthur and Kelly Roberts got engaged in January, they started planning their October 2021 wedding.
"Two brides are better than one," said Arthur, who met her fiancée six years ago. "More exciting that way."
But this week's excitement wasn't what the Woodstock, Ont., couple, both 26 years old, were bargaining for. When they tried to book videographer Caramount Pictures, based in Brantford, Ont., for their wedding, the owner told them the business will not work with a same-sex couple.
The refusal came on Monday, 15 years to the day after Canada legalized same-sex marriage, on July 20, 2005.
"I say this with much care, because I know your union is incredibly important to you, but we do not film homosexual weddings," Cara Hamstra, the business owner, wrote in an email.
'My heart just immediately dropped'
Arthur was shocked. "She was so blunt about it, didn't even try to mask it," she said.
"When I opened the email, my heart just immediately dropped. I felt sick to my stomach," Roberts said. "It was just so blatant what she said. And usually people will try and dance around it."
CBC News reached out to Hamstra for comment but has not received a response as of publication.
The couple had a similar experience in February.
Roberts said after meeting with a wedding officiant in a local Tim Hortons doughnut shop, he said he wouldn't marry the two women.
"Mallory was grabbing us a coffee, and as she sat down and he realized it was two women, he said that his beliefs don't support our marriage, and he would be shunned by the church if he married us," she said.
When it comes to refusing to officiate a marriage, the Ontario Human Rights Code has exemptions for religious officials.
Human rights and the law
Susan Toth, a lawyer in London, Ont. — about 55 kilometres southwest of Woodstock — said denying someone service because of their sexual orientation is a human rights violation.
"If a private organization is specifically identifying sexual orientation as the basis for refusal of a private service, then this would violate the [Ontario] Human Rights Code," Toth said.
"There are exceptions for special-interest organizations, such as religious clubs or schools, but this would normally not extend to a private business."
In one case, a private Christian organization was allowed to bar a young student from enrolling in its school because the parents were in a same-sex marriage. The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal upheld the group's decision because the school fell under the category of a special-interest organization.
"I don't see that applying here, though," Toth said.
'Discouraging and disappointing'
The executive director of Egale, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ rights, said the legalization of same-sex marriage was a big step, but it didn't stop people from being judgmental.
Cases like this, said Helen Kennedy, show that "the cultural piece hasn't caught up with the legal piece."
"This kind of response happens all too often," she said.
"You hope that progress is being made, and you see progress being made," she said, but "we know we still have a lot to do in Canada to change attitudes.
"It's so discouraging and disappointing, but it's not surprising."
Robert said the rejection "almost just makes you question how far we've actually come."
"You'd think by now things are a little more accepting," she said. "To receive that right after Pride Month, something we actively celebrate, is just sad. I'm just shocked and sad."
For the most part, Arthur said, planning the wedding has been a positive experience. "We were hoping that in 2020, it would be pretty smooth sailing, which for the most part it really has been," she said.
"A lot of the vendors that we've booked have been great and very accepting of us," she said. "So we've still had the brides-planning-their-wedding excitement. It's just been these couple vendors that really throw a wrench in things, and it's just shocking."
Roberts said she wants to make people aware that there are still businesses that will deny service based on sexual orientation.
"I don't want anyone else to have to face such a blatant rejection to their face. I think that can be very upsetting for someone to receive. It might break someone's spirit to hear something like that," she said.
The couple is still excited to get married. "I don't think anyone could bring it down," Roberts said. "I'm just I'm so excited to marry Mallory. This really sucks and I wish it didn't happen, but at the end of the day, I still get to marry Mallory. And I know that sounds so corny, but I'm truly just excited she's my best friend."
Arthur echoed the sentiment. "She's just my favourite person in the world, and I can't wait to marry her."