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Roger Thibault, half of first North American same-sex civil union, dies

Parkinson’s disease claims Thibault — who married partner Theo Wouters in 2002 — at age 77
Roger Thibault, one half of the first same-sex couple married in a civil ceremony in North America, died Friday at the age of 77. Thibault, left, places a wedding band on his husband Theo Wouters during their wedding at the Montreal Courthouse, Thursday, July 18, 2002. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Anthony Peters

A member of the first same-sex couple to be legally joined in a civil union in North America has died.

Theo Wouters said his husband Roger Thibault, 77, died in his arms Friday.

The two men had shared their lives for 50 years.

Wouters said Thibault suffered from Parkinson’s disease. “Unfortunately, Rogers’ illnesses progressed very fast,” he said in an interview. “Last week, his condition deteriorated quite quickly.”

The couple was united in a civil union in July 2002, shortly after the Quebec government created the new form of legal partnership, distinguished from marriage only by its name, which was open to same sex couples.

Quebec would legalize same sex marriage in 2004, the third province to do so.

The federal government would follow in 2005, legalizing same sex marriage in the two provinces and two territories that had not already done so.

Wouters, 81, said he hopes that future generations will remember the fight that he and his husband waged against homophobia, particularly in the Montreal suburb of Pointe-Claire, where they organized a march that drew thousands of people in May 2001.

Wouters said he worries about the looming threat that LGBTQ+ rights will be rolled-back.

“We want today’s young people to remain very vigilant,” he said. “What’s happening in the United States is terrifying.”

The couple was named honorary citizens of Montreal last May in celebration of their fight against discrimination and hate.

Patrick Desmarais, president of Fondation Émergence, a Quebec group that works against homophobia and transphobia, said he would be thinking about the couple during Montreal’s pride parade Sunday.

“Of course, when we march, we march in memory of the battles we’ve won as a community. The fact that Roger and Theo were the first couple to legally enter into a civil union in Quebec, in North America, in fact, was the beginning of many beautiful successes that our community has had in obtaining the same rights as other couples,” he said.

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