Brian & David

Brian Hayes (37) and David Bowman (36) are living proof that the personals can lead to happy ever afters. They met 11 years ago when Brian was working in Seattle as a consultant and he answered an ad David had placed in a local publication.

Brian & David"We met for coffee," Brian remembers. "I had been on a couple of blind dates before, so I was prepared, even though it was still nerve-wracking."

"We just kind hit it off," says David, who was born and grew up in America. "I think we were both at the stage where we both hadn't really had a lengthy relationship and we just kind of met at the right time for both of us. We moved in together a couple of weeks later."

The pair lived in Seattle until 1999 and then moved to Ireland for two years. Their next port of call was Canada, where David has family-ties. When they moved there in 2001, the debate around gay marriage was moving forward at a fast pace.

"We were wondering if same sex marriage came about in Canada, would we get married?" says David. "We talked about it off and on and we figured we would like to be legal wherever we settled. When it became clear that same sex marriage was going to be written into the law of the land in Canada, it seemed like a natural progression for us."

And so Brian popped the question. "We were down in Seattle over an Easter weekend and we went to our favourite restaurant there," he remembers, "the one we used to go to in our courting days."

"I had no idea it was coming," David says. "I think the question would have come at some point, but I wasn't expecting it then. It was a really emotional moment."

Brian and David announced their engagement and set a date 18 months in the future, giving both their families' time to organise trips to Canada.

"Friends of ours were running a wine lodge in the mountains in British Columbia, five hours outside Vancouver and it was the perfect option for the wedding," says Brian. "It was a good destination for people to come to. We had the wedding over a weekend, wine and cheese reception, then the wedding the following day, then breakfast and everyone went their way."

"We wrote our own vows," says David. "In the province of British Columbia you don't have to be married by the registrar or any marriage commissioner, they just have to be present. So we were married by a really good friend."

"I was crying during the vows," says Brian. "We set each other off! It was on a lawn, looking over a lake and it was beautiful. I think people who were there were really moved. You could feel the love."

So far so romantic, but then the couple decided to move back to Brian's home country of Ireland where the state refuses to recognise their marriage, even though they have equal rights in Canada and would be recognised in other EU countries as a married couple.

"As far as our interaction with the Irish state, it's been disappointing to say the least," says David of the move. "We both want to stay here. Brian was born here, I have a decent job here where I am very happy, but it's very dismaying at times that I am not able to be here on a fully legal basis. For instance, I can't get a mortgage because I am only have temporary residency and a work permit. I have to stay in the same job because my employer sponsors my permit. I like my job and I'm happy in it, but it is unfair that my career is hampered by a lack of recognition. If I was a woman and married to Brian, I could go to any employer I liked.

"The biggest thing that I've discovered is that people are dumbfounded when they discover that this is an issue for us. They are like, 'what do you mean? You're married.' They just don't understand how in this day and age, in a modern society, that it could possibly be a problem."

As the Government prepares its heads of bill for civil unions for gay people, David is quick to assert that he is well and truly a married man. "I'm not going to settle for being classified as something else. Brian is my husband, we are married."

"The government proposal is presumably that there will be a separate institution of civil partnership for same sex couples," says Brian, "with a separately defined set of rights and responsibilities, independent of marriage. That's like saying we should be happy with crumbs from the table. Even if it's similar to marriage but has a separate name, that's separating us in society, which is fundamentally unfair."

Although everyone of Brian and David's acquaintance recognises their marriage and thinks the Irish state should also recognise it too, they realise that not everyone has the same beliefs. "I think that people need to separate all the complexities around legislation from the idea of what is fair and unfair," says David. "People need to separate their own religious issues from it or whatever it and consider it as an issue over what is fair for the people of Ireland. This is supposed to be a modern, cutting edge country, after all."