01/12/2012 07:19 EST | Updated 03/13/2012 05:12 EDT

Canada Gay Marriage: Same-Sex Carolina Couple Hopes For Validity Of 'Canada Day' Nuptials

TORONTO - Canada Day seemed a fitting time for Pam Spaulding to say her wedding vows.

She had spent two years braving the public disapproval of her relationship with another woman in their home state of North Carolina, but felt strongly that their's was a union that would last.

That possibility was still not acknowledged throughout most of her homeland, where same-sex marriages were largely taboo in 2004. So Spaulding and her partner flew to Vancouver to pledge a lifelong commitment to each other.

They were married on July 1 in the garden of a bed and breakfast, cheered on by the staff that cobbled together a wedding cake and helped them make arrangements in spite of the national holiday.

Their honeymoon was spent in British Columbia among people who were eager to join in their celebrations and echoed their laments that the United States would not follow Canada's lead on gay rights.

That pioneering position, and Spaulding's own union, were called into question on Thursday after a twist in a Charter of Rights case launched in Ontario by two foreign women seeking a divorce.

A legal brief filed by federal lawyers denies the women were even legally married as they could not legally be wed in their home jurisdictions.

The government has vowed it is not reopening the same-sex marriage debate and promised to clarify the law to ensure gay couples from abroad who marry in Canada can also get divorced.

Meanwhile, critics have decried the development as an attempt to further a right-wing agenda.

For Spaulding, the euphoria she felt on her wedding day contrasted sharply with the realization that the recognition she sought may not be hers afterall.

"Basically when we fly out of our home state and land in a place with marriage equality, we're married. If this is allowed to stand, then we're not married anywhere," Spaulding said in a telephone interview from Durham, N.C. "That's very depressing and demoralizing."

Spaulding's day-to-day life would not change dramatically if her marriage was declared invalid, since she and her partner are barely acknowledged under North Carolina law.

Nullifying their union, however, could rob them of rights they would be entitled to elsewhere in the U.S. now that gay marriage has been recognized in certain states.

Lack of legal status can leave partners with their hands tied if their spouses fall ill or if they run into child custody issues down the line.

"These are not small things," Spaulding said. "These are life-altering things that marriage gives straight couples that are denied to lesbian and gay couples. It's not just a piece of paper."

Spaulding does not view the recent Canadian controversy as a reflection of the people who welcomed her and her spouse so warmly, saying it bears the hallmarks of a targeted move executed by a few "conservative elements."

She hopes the government will clarify her legal status in short order, but already has a contingency plan if things don't go her way.

She and her wife will travel to New York to restate their vows in front of Spaulding's entire family, who couldn't make it to the Canadian celebration.

Spaulding's priority, however, remains the fight to preserve the rights she thought she'd secured on Canada Day.

"I already feel I'm still married. I was married. But to get legal recognition again is extremely important to me."