“Hey bro, can I buy you a shot?” Zac’s smile radiated from underneath his bushy black beard. I leaned in closer to hear him over the trance music pumping out onto the upstairs dance floor of Seven nightclub in Melbourne.
I always imagined the ground would tremble and fireworks would explode the moment I met the love of my life. Thinking back now, what felt different about meeting Zac was in fact the ease with which I could slot into his orbit. As we made our way to the bar, I felt my chest relax, my breathing slow, and my smile extend to mirror his.
I was a hopeless romantic when I met Zac. Growing up, my model for true love had stemmed from mariachi songs and telenovelas – full of passion, desire, promises, scandals, and of course, heartache. I’m not sure how well this model was serving me, considering my longest relationship with another man had been two months. It didn’t help that, growing up, mariachi songs and telenovelas had never mentioned love between two men. Nor had my family, my school, church, friends, community, mentors or the country in which I lived, Australia. I didn’t exist in these worlds.
Zac proposed to me in 2015. At the time, conversation in parliament about marriage equality was stalling. We were living together in a lofty one-bedroom, warehouse-converted apartment on Flinders Lane in Melbourne, a world away from our origins - I was born El Salvador during the civil war, and grew up in the southeast suburbs of Melbourne, in one of two Victorian electorates that would vote No to marriage equality in the 2017 postal survey. Zac was born in Macedonia and grew up in the southwest suburbs of Sydney, in one of twelve NSW electorates that would vote No.
We were two ethnic boys who grew up in the 'burbs with no model for a gay relationship. When we moved in together, we had to learn how to do adult same-sex relationships through trial and error. We worked through simple things like divvying up domestic chores, to more complex things like dismantling machista stereotypes of control and dominance. We held tightly to the love that bonded us, and learnt to listen, reflect, speak up, compromise and adjust, as our relationship evolved and as we grew as individuals. Coming from conservative communities, we had both struggled with self-acceptance and the painful process of bringing our families and communities with us.
We didn’t want to wait for same-sex marriage to be passed in Australia. New Zealand was an accessible option, but the thought of getting our ageing parents overseas, who had been on their own monumental journey of love and acceptance for our union, didn’t seem fun or fair. We settled on an Auckland ceremony, and Melbourne reception.
Our ‘groomal’ party flew with us to Auckland in 2016. Zac’s two best girlfriends were the Maid of Honour and the Best Man. My best gay mate was the Man of Honour and one of my sisters was the Best Woman. We were driven straight from the airport to our hotel, where Zac and I had a large suite to hold our ceremony in.
The celebrant arrived, making us comfortable with her warm and cheery Kiwi accent, and keeping us moving through an emotionally charged day.
We held each other’s hands, said our vows, exchanged rings, and smiled until our cheeks hurt, holding the tears back as best we could. After photos, bubbles and dinner, we called it a night, ready for another full day in Melbourne.
It was a casual reception of 60 guests for a cocktail-style party. We adopted the traditions of the entrances, the speeches and the first dance. Zac’s mum had made a beautiful Macedonian-style cake with countless silver balls and a cake topper of two silhouetted tuxed men. Zac booked a cabaret singer. I wonder what guests thought about hearing ‘Mein Herr’ at a wedding. But I smiled, rejoicing in this marriage of cultures, and acknowledging all the pain and hurdles we had to overcome to get to this point.
Fast forward one year - we were taking the obligatory photos at Bondi Icebergs pool in Sydney with my sister and her partner, when my social media feed informed me our marriage was finally legal in our home country. Zac and I had campaigned firmly for marriage equality in Australia, not for our benefit, given that we were already married, but for future generations. The realisation that our marriage was now recognised was overwhelming.
A weight was lifted off my shoulders and my chest expanded as I put my arm around my lawfully wedded husband in front of my sister, and in front of the nation. My sister took an Insta-worthy photo of us with the iconic Bondi Beach in the background. As I posted it out for the world to share in our joy, Zac and I reflected on how the twenty-year-old us would have never envisioned this image of two men of colour, with dark hair, scruffy beards, fully sick tattoos, and pearly white smiles, holding each other in love.