Couples on Rosie O'Donnell cruise ship wed in Saint John

Several gay and lesbian couples who arrived in Saint John on a cruise ship on Tuesday tied the knot in the port city.

About a dozen gay and lesbian couples who arrived in Saint John on a cruise ship on Tuesday tied the knot in the port city, taking advantage of Canada's legal recognition of gay marriage.

The Norwegian Dawn, a cruise ship being rented by entertainer Rosie O'Donnell's tour company R Family Vacations, arrived in port Tuesday with about 2,200 passengers.

The couples, most from U.S. jurisdictions where same-sex marriage isn't sanctioned by law, were scheduled to be married in the city during their Canadian stop.

"We're going to get married and take advantage of some very fabulous, liberal, open-minded Canadian laws," said Jill Wilcox, who was travelling from Texas with her partner.

"We are really excited about that," said Betty MacMillan, manager for the Saint John Port Authority. "I think it means we are growing in destination awareness and people really do want to come here."

The tour company caters to gay and lesbian travelers and their families. O'Donnell, her wife Kelly Carpenter-O'Donnell and their children were among the families travelling on the ship.

It is the first time that the R Family Vacations has docked in Saint John.

The couples scheduled to be married in the city were met by a chartered city bus, said Natalie Godbout, a Saint John lawyer and deputy clerk of the court.

They were transported to a Service New Brunswick centre to be granted marriage licences before their ceremonies, Godbout said.

The city also produced commemorative plaques to provide to each of the newly marriage couples, she said.

It's not uncommon for same-sex couples on cruise ships that call at the port city to get married, Godbout said.

Godbout was scheduled to perform marriage ceremonies for two of the couples off the R Family Vacations boat on Tuesday and has wed about 12 others over the past three years.

"When we get back to Texas, our lives won't have changed. I mean, for all practical purposes we've been married for eight years, but now it's going to be legal," said cruise ship passenger Wilcox, who wed her partner Karen Langsley while in Saint John.

The luxury cruise vacations help build tolerance in the cities it visits, said Jennifer Chrisler, spokeswoman for U.S. Family Equality Council.

"At the end of the day it will help people realize that our families are just like all other families," Chrisler said.

Gay marriage has been legal in New Brunswick since 2005, when the Court of Queen's Bench ruled the province's failure to issue marriage licences to same-sex couples violated their Charter rights.