• Sally & Elise, Ron & Antony, and Ellen & Carina: three same-sex Aussie couples who have had to wait to get married. (All photos supplied)
Chloe Sargeant speaks to same-sex and queer couples in Australia about what it's like waiting for permission to marry the love of their life, and what they have planned for their wedding.
By
Chloe Sargeant

14 Nov 2017 - 1:31 PM  UPDATED 14 Nov 2017 - 1:31 PM

During the overwhelming campaign period of the same-sex marriage postal survey, it was easy for many to dehumanise the issue, reducing it down to a political tennis match and forgetting the real Australians who were directly affected by the debate. 

So, in the lead up to tomorrow's announcement of the postal survey results, I decided to speak to seven of the couples that this exhausting national debate was actually affecting - people who have long been waiting for legislation to pass, so they can finally marry the person that they love.

Antony and Ron, Melbourne

Antony and Ron have been together for 30 years. Ron tells me that they're already sort of married - they've gotten hitched 'illegally' multiple times. Their first commitment ceremony was in 1993 on their sixth anniversary, and was in front of family and friends. But they've also had commitment ceremonies as forms of protest, getting married at rallies, on television, and on radio.

"We're up to fifteen or sixteen times now - I've lost count now, to be honest!" 

The pair are long-time activists for marriage equality, with Ron sitting on the committee for Equal Love Melbourne, and organising events for the LGBTQI+ community.

He explains that he and Antony actually ended up taking nearly a month off of work during the survey period, initially planning to take a much-needed self-care holiday - but instead, they ended up becoming really involved in phone canvassing and rally work ("We just felt we had to do more.") 

But they tell me that the past two months has been "up and down".

"We’ve had moments of feeling empowered, and moments of absolute despair," Ron explains. "It’s been quite confronting to make phone calls to the public, and ask for their permission. It’s been quite humiliating, it’s brought up a lot of old demons from the past.

"I’ve always considered myself quite strong, we’ve been through a lot in our time - we survived the HIV crisis in the 80s and we lost many of our friends. I didn’t anticipate that we would be so hard hit [by the survey], personally."

When I ask about their plans for their sixteenth (or seventeenth, but first legal) wedding ceremony, Ron tells me that even after 30 years, they still haven't made any firm plans for the wedding. 

"I guess that's a part of self-preservation," he explains. "We don’t expect it will be a huge ceremony itself, we’ve done that. But I’m sure there will be a huge reception, a lot of people will be very happy to see us married."

Ellen & Carina, Lightning Ridge

Ellen and Carina got engaged in Tasmania earlier this year. The couple met after Ellen, originally from Newcastle, accepted a teaching job offer in a rural town she'd never heard of, called Lightning Ridge.

Carina was working at the school, and was one of the first teachers Ellen met upon her arrival. They've now been together for three years.

.

Ellen tells me that the postal survey has been difficult, although she's found they've felt reasonably protected living in a regional area and being surrounded by supportive people.

"I’m quite ashamed to call Australia home right now, we’re so behind on this topic. When it came out that it wasn’t going to be passed through Parliament and we had to have this survey, I honestly just assumed - and maybe that might be ignorant on my behalf - but I really did not realise it would give so many haters a platform. I really did not realise there was still so many homophobes in our country today.

"We were quite sheltered from [the national debate], being in such a rural community - we didn’t have any of the Yes or No ads on TV, and we have been surrounded by a bunch of supportive people. Being teachers in such a small community, we were quite worried that it would bring people out that didn’t want us to teach their kids. But when we come into the city, it makes us so sad to see this propaganda that says we’re not equal.

"Being a member of the LGBTQI+ community is hard enough, but to have it spruiked on TV that you are different and shouldn’t have the same rights as everybody else, it is awful."

I say that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said that marriage equality would be legal before Christmas if the survey result was 'yes', and Ellen tells me that she's extremely sceptical. 

"I think Malcolm Turnbull is a joke, I think he’s going to go down in history as the most spineless leader we’ve had," she tells me. "He’s spent $120 million on a non-binding survey, I don’t think he’s going to pull his finger out and get it done before it Christmas. I think it’ll be political suicide if he doesn’t eventually do it, but I can’t see it happening before 2018."

Ellen also tells me of her concerns that politicians will create some sort of 'lesser' form of marriage if the survey doesn't deliver an overwhelming Yes result. "A 'civil unionship' type of thing is so insulting," she explains. "It’s going to create a two-tier hierarchy of relationships, which actually highlights inequality. I don’t think there should be a hierarchy of relationships; we’re all human, we should all have equality, and we should all be able to marry the person that we love."

"We’re all human, we should all have equality, and we should all be able to marry the person that we love."

I ask Ellen what her and Carina's plans are for the wedding, and she tells me they're planning on getting married in just under a year: "At the moment we’re getting married in October, in Tasmania - that’s where I proposed. We’ve actually had an email from the celebrant we’d like to use recently - we stopped emailing for a while there, because we couldn’t until we knew what type of ceremony we’d be able to plan!"

John & Chris, Bendigo

John and Chris have been together for 23 years, after meeting through friends of friends. "Gosh, it was so long ago. I used to go to nightclubs back then, good lord. There may have even been a dance party involved!" John tells me, laughing.

He explains to me that when he and Chris got together, they never thought marriage equality would be something they'd see in their lifetime. However, once same-sex marriage was legalised in New Zealand, they considered there to get married - but eventually decided to wait until Australia followed suit.

Unfortunately, it took Australia far longer than expected: "It kind of felt like there was no point in doing it until we could do it here, you know? But I did think it would be quicker than this."

John tells me that the major difficulty they've faced with being unable to get married was legal documentation - particularly visas. "It’s been a frustration, honestly," John tells me. "Chris was a research scientist for years, and lived overseas. It was so hard to get our visa for London, and impossible to get one for Canada, or the US. All these options that were completely open to any heterosexual couple who’d been married for a day, were denied to us. Anyone could do a Britney and they could get it - we’d been together for decades, and couldn’t. During the horrible debate, people kept saying we were legally equal to heterosexual couples, and it’s just untrue."

"We went through the stage of ‘Oh, let’s have unicorns and jetpacks at the wedding!’ [...] now it’s ‘Let’s do it so when one of us is dying in hospital, the other doesn’t have to leave the room’. 

I ask John if he and Chris ever got engaged, or if they have any big plans for the wedding when the time comes, and he laughs. "It’s been so long now we’re past the romance stage! [laughs] We’re now doing it for legal protection and documents, I think," he explains.

"We went through the stage of ‘Oh, let’s have unicorns and jetpacks at the wedding!’, to ‘Let’s do it for the whitegoods!’. Now it’s ‘Let’s do it so when one of us is dying in hospital, the other doesn’t have to leave the room’. 

Kirsty & Kelly, Melbourne

Kirsty and Kelly have known one another for seven years, been a couple for five, and got engaged just over a year ago. So the first year of their engagement has proved to be a nerve-wracking time, with their January wedding plans completely up in the air.

They originally planned to go to New Zealand, and they, along with their entire families, have their flights and accommodation booked for early next year, in case Australian marriage equality is not achieved in time. But, they're hoping they won't have to use their tickets, and get married in the country they call home.

Kirsty tells me that the past two months have been so hard, particularly watching friends of theirs "retreat into themselves as they faced more and more discrimination" during the survey campaign, but it's also been heartening to watch the community come together.

But she and Kelly also have some very positive memories to look back on when times get tough - particularly their engagement, where they both unknowingly got down on one knee to propose at exactly the same moment. 

"We’d just got back from a couple of weddings, and we decided to go away for a weekend away in the mountains. It was the middle of October, and it was actually snowing. We went up this mountain, and on the way up I was thinking it would be the perfect place to propose. We got to the top, and then by chance, we both got down on one knee at the same moment. I don’t know how it happened.

"I asked her first, and on the way up I’d made her a little ring out of gumtree. Y’know, if you like it you gotta put a twig on it [laughs]."

"[I] made her a little ring out of gumtree. Y’know, if you like it you gotta put a twig on it [laughs]."

I tell Kirsty that I'd like to include some details about her and Kelly's upcoming wedding, and she becomes heartwarmingly animated as she explains that, should legalisation pass through in time, they have an enormous, 150-person wedding booked in the north of Tasmania.

"We both have big families and lots of great friends, so there’s a BIG bridal party - there’s four flower kids!" Kirsty tells me.

"One of our friends is marrying us, and we’re writing the ceremony together - we really want to make it all about celebrating our love in front of our family and friends, and making a commitment and starting the next chapter of our lives together. 

"Oh, and there’s a flash mob! Everyone has to learn a dance for the Beyoncé flash mob. There’ll be lots of glitter, too. Our wedding vendors are really excited, they said it’s the first lesbian wedding they’ve ever had [laughs] so we have to really go all out!"

Kirsti and Nikki, Broken Hill

Kirsti and Nikki tell me they've been together for four and a half years, after meeting on the soccer pitch in 2013 - they were playing on opposition teams, and ended up falling head over heels for one another. 

Kirsti, who has also faced the heartbreaking situation of having to divorce a previous partner in order to amend her birth certificate to female, explains that the postal survey period has been an exceedingly tough time, and that they absolutely did not think they would still be fighting to marry each other in 2017. 

"We're both feeling like we are living a groundhog existence - we have had our hopes up too many times before," she explains. 

"[We thought we] could marry in 2014 when the ACT passed the Marriage Equality Act. Unfortunately, the Liberal government appealed this in the High Court, and our hearts were both broken at the last minute."

Upon asking if their four-year wait has been difficult, Kirsti tells me, "Every single day Nikki and I are reminded that we can't marry each other. We worry what would happen if one of us dies or gets seriously ill, [and] we worry about being separated later in life in an aged care facility if our relationship isn't legalised."

Kirsti tells me they are hoping their ceremony will be the first same-sex marriage in Australia's first heritage listed city, Broken Hill. She also tells me that their wedding day, as well as their future anniversaries, will reference how the couple met - on the soccer pitch.

"We want to marry at O'Neil Park on the very soccer field where we first met and spoke to each other," Kirsti explains. "And, we plan to play a game of soccer - the Nikki team versus the Kirsti team - for a perpetual trophy to be replayed each anniversary."

Craig & Chris, NSW

Craig and Chris tell me they've been together for 26 years, and have wanted to marry for nearly 20.

Craig explains that their reasons for wanting to get married aren't so much for the traditionally romantic reasons, but rather for the legal status. He also says that they didn't get engaged, as they didn't want to follow traditional formats ("We didn't want anything too heterosexual") but instead decided to get legally married in Canada two years ago: "We purchased the marriage licence, found a celebrant, and had the best private ceremony with four of our friends."

But Craig and Chris want to marry legally in Australia, as they have spent much of their relationship battling to be recognised as spouses for basic things like healthcare or insurance. 

"We've been battling government departments for many years to be accepted as each other's legal spouse," Craig tells me. "Dealing with Medicare, insurance - [we're just] running an average life that any heterosexual couple just takes for granted."

Craig explains the past few months have been difficult, and they have felt exhausted for the campaigning for the postal survey. "Emotionally and intellectually we are both drained and hurt with the way the media - and ultimately the government - has allowed some members of the wider community to make really hateful comments.

"Everyone seems to forget, religion has nothing to do with what this issue is fundamentally all about. It's just egalitarian equality. Religion has nothing to do with it."

"Religion has nothing to do with what this issue is fundamentally all about. It's just egalitarian equality. Religion has nothing to do with it."

Craig says he isn't holding his breath for Malcolm Turnbull's promise that marriage equality would become a reality before Christmas ("It's lip service only!"), but is looking forward to the whole ordeal being over and done with.

"It would be great to know once Australian society gets past this mess, we can hold hands in public and hopefully be better accepted, with the law behind us."

Sally & Elise, Adelaide

Sally and Elise have been together for five and a half years, and tell me they began talking about marriage straight away, because once they found one another, they "knew [they] were going to be together forever".

The couple have five children altogether - four are Sally's, and they had their son Tadhg (pictured) together. 

Sally explains to me that their reasons for wanting to get married aren't just "for the lovey-dovey reasons" - there's also the practical reasons, such as recognition of parentage. The couple had to fight to change a law in South Australia in order for Sally to be recognised as the second parent on Tadhg's birth certificate, which took two years of legal battles. 

"It was all because we couldn’t get married - if we were married then there wouldn’t have been an issue.

"It makes you think about if you were in an emergency situation and one of us was in hospital and weren't recognised as each other’s next of kin, that’s a major concern for a couple. Or not being recognised as the parent of your child - it just requires one homophobic nurse to change the whole situation. People say, ‘oh you have exactly the same rights as a heterosexual de facto couple’, but really, we don’t. You’re not going to meet a heterophobic nurse or heterophobic official that makes life hard for you, and says ‘no, I’m not going to recognise that that’s your partner’. 

"Those kinds of reasons why marriage is so important to us. And now we have this big family, we’ve got five kids, four of mine, and one together, and weddings are half for the family. It would be a really lovely to have, and plan a wedding; to share our commitment and our relationship with our family."

I ask what they do have planned for their wedding, and Sally tells me it will likely be a low-key affair. 

"We’ve got a really lovely garden, so it would probably be a garden wedding, and likely in November - that’s the nicest month with lots of flowers," she says. "All our children would be there - my father would get to wear his kilt, and my sons would wear kilts too. We do talk about it, but we don’t have plans - it would be a fairly informal, flower-filled event. You know, we’d just tell our family and friends, ‘We’re doing it - bring a plate’. 

SAME-SEX WEDDINGS:
This nearly 200-year-old Baptist church voted in favour of performing same-sex weddings
“We reminded ourselves why we listen to Scripture in the first place: not to be a battleground, but to bring us together."
The Faroe Islands just held its first same-sex wedding ceremony
“This is a very special day for us two and for the Faroe Islands."
Lesbian couple to feature on 'My Big Bollywood Wedding'
“There was an unmistakable gravitational pull between us that could not be denied."
Joe Biden officiates same-sex wedding of Democrat staffer
Over the weekend, Joe Biden officiated his second same-sex wedding, marrying the DNC's Finance Chair Henry Muñoz and his partner, Kyle Ferrari.