It was 21 years ago that Jim Crooks and Carl Trickey of Saint John became the first same-sex couple in the Maritimes to be married inside a church in 1996.

The two got married at the former Centenary Queen Square United Church - now known as the Gothic Arches - with a ceremony that garnered a lot of attention in the community.

"We thought 40 or 50 people maybe and it turned out to be closer to 200  inside and probably that number outside,” says Crooks.

A crowd of protesters gathered outside the church and it was vandalized, while the wedding sanctioned by the church inside went ahead.

"The church took a fair amount of heat about that and they stood behind their decision,” says Trickey.

The fallout continued for months afterwards and the issue divided the congregation, which many members left.

Dozens of people expressed opinions in the local paper.

"Some of them were very painful to read,” says Trickey. “I mean you're being painted with a brush that really isn't reflective of who you are as a person or as a couple."

The couple faced a number of threats and say they feared for their personal safety at the time.

They now say, after 21 years, holding hands in public isn’t as much of an issue.

"Particularly if we are walking together people will cross to the other side of the street rather than have to pass by us,” Crooks says.

"It's interesting to be 20 years away from it and look back because it gives you this wonderful sense of hopefulness,” says Trickey.

The two say they’re proud of how attitudes have evolved in their community as Saint John celebrates Pride Week this week.

With files from CTV Atlantic’s Mary Cranston.