• The automatic recognition of overseas marriage in Australia will affect plenty of same-sex spouses in a variety of different ways. (Supplied (L), Supplied / Barbara A. Gibson (C), Supplied (R))
"It’s nice to be recognised in our own country." SBS Sexuality speaks to several same-sex couples whose overseas marriages mean they could wake up legally married in Australia one day this week, should Senator Dean Smith's bill become law.
By
Chloe Sargeant

7 Dec 2017 - 11:29 AM  UPDATED 7 Dec 2017 - 11:40 AM

Unmarried one second, married the next. No celebrant, no witnesses, no bouquets, no wedding cakes (baked by homophobic bakers or otherwise!). This exact situation could happen to thousands of Aussies this week, if Senator Dean Smith's same-sex marriage bill is passed into law. 

The Equality Campaign estimates that thousands of same-sex couples have travelled overseas to wed in countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and the Netherlands.

If Smith's bill is signed into law by the Governor-General, then the marriages of these couples will automatically, without any paperwork, legalese, or fuss whatsoever, officially be legally recognised in Australia - just like that. 

Chloe Sargeant spoke to some of the couples who this will directly affect, from those who have been married for years and will celebrate automatic recognition; to those whose marriages have since ended, and automatic recognition means they may need to begin divorce proceedings; to those whose partners heartbreakingly passed away in the time it took Australia to legalise same-sex marriage. 

Daniel and Bluey, NSW

Daniel and Bluey have been together for seven years, and made the jump across the pond to marry in New Zealand at the beginning of last year. 

Coming up on their second wedding anniversary, Daniel tells SBS that the pair held their ceremony on the gorgeous deck of the house they were staying at, with their daughter, several close friends, and his parents who had travelled from Sweden. 

"Our celebrant Vicki had put together a very personal, loving, and fun ceremony that in conjunction with a great speech from our close friend Catriona made for a very special moment. Lots of happy tears indeed! We had written our own vows which felt very special to read in front of our family and friends."

Daniel and Bluey are absolutely thrilled that the passing of Dean Smith's bill means their NZ marriage will be automatically recognised here. 

"Excited is an understatement!" Daniel exclaims. "So nice and comforting to finally have our marriage legally recognised in Australia and feel that our relationship and family isn’t different or discriminated against. It’s been a long time coming..."

But the pair won't be holding off on a follow-up round of celebrations - they will be renewing their vows and holding a 'second reception' of sorts: "We are planning to renew our vows and hold a party so that more friends and family can join us in celebrating our love and commitment - in the country where we live and of which we are both citizens."

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Kerry and Chrissy, VIC

Kerry and Chrissy have been together for a decade, and decided to head to Chrissy's hometown of Buffalo, New York, to tie the knot.

Kerry recounts how her parents attended via Skype (the magic of technology!), while the pair's wedding venue was filled with Chrissy's "wonderful Polish-American family, including Mum and Dad and sisters, brothers-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and many of their friends - including some from Australia".

"We had fun with music," Kerry says. "We walked in to Andy Williams singing 'More', the formal ceremony concluded with Pharrell Williams' 'Happy', and we danced a wedding foxtrot to Peggy Lee singing  'Cheek to Cheek'. [We also had a] short honeymoon at Niagara Falls. Corny but true."

On the potential for their Buffalo marriage becoming instantly legal here, if Smith's same-sex marriage bill passes, Kerry's excitement is palpable: "We are rapt that when we tick the 'married' box on forms it will be legally recognised."

Asked if they're planning a second ceremony or party, to commemorate the day they became legally married in Australia, Kerry says they won't. 

"No, we are already married. Although Chrissy says she is tempted, as we could get more gifts [laughs]."

Graham and Rob, SA

Graham and Rob have been together for close to five years, and were one of couples eligible to marry at a UK consulate, due to Graham's dual citizenship. They married at the British Consulate in Melbourne in August, 2014. 

Graham says their ceremony was very "business" - which was exactly the way they wanted it.

"We weren't looking for a romantic ceremony. We were just looking for the legality, to be honest," he explains. "We effectively eloped; we didn't tell our friends or extended family. We each took one sibling to be our witnesses. It was very secret, we didn't tell our friends until we saw them."

Now that it looks as though same-sex marriage is set to be reality in the immediate future, the couple have already been asked by people if they'll be renewing their vows, or having a romantic ceremony of some kind - but Graham says it's not for them.

"For us, it wasn't about a big ceremony or the public declaration, it was more about the legal recognition of, 'this is the person that I choose to make decisions on my behalf'."

Graham reveals that he's "excited" by the prospect of automatically being legally married to Rob, adding: "I was a little bit nervous that wouldn't happen, and we'd have to go through a process to have it recognised here, a registration process or renewal of vows or something.

"I'm very happy that it's just going to be accepted, in the same way my grandparents moved to Australia from the UK, and they didn't have to register their marriage - it was just accepted."

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Dina and Desiree, NSW

Dina and Desiree have been together for nearly 17 years, and have had two weddings - one legal, and the other not.

The couple got "illegally" married on a beach in Hawaii in 2011, which was "halfway between [their] two homes, Seattle and Sydney". Their second ceremony happened in Seattle in 2014, after the US had legalised same-sex marriage. 

"[Hawaii] was a fairly informal ceremony with lots of food, laughter, and a pinata," Dina explains. "The legal ceremony was a formality, done in Seattle when it became legal in Washington State. Our paperwork was signed by my mother's pastor, who was very keen to represent on paper what happened at the actual wedding."

Dina feels that the concept of being recognised as a married couple within an instant is a bizarre one.

"It feels so strange. Des and I have always known we would spend our lives together, and we were happy to celebrate that without legal recognition. But the actual legal recognition is such a massive thing. While making it legal had a certain kind of closure to it, it still didn't feel final because as soon as we came back to Australia, that piece of paper was once again meaningless. Overnight, it could become meaningful here!"

But she and Desiree probably won't be having a third ceremony, instead opting for a quiet celebration with mates: "Maybe a drink with friends to celebrate new rights for all of us!"

Chris, VIC

As a UK dual citizen, Chris was able to marry his partner at the British Consulate in Melbourne in 2014. The couple separated two years later, and ran into several speed bumps when it came to legally getting divorced in a country that did not recognise their marriage.

So when same-sex marriage is legalised in Australia, Chris will be automatically married to someone he is no longer in a relationship with.

After Chris and his partner went their separate ways, he contacted the Consulate to find out what his initial steps should be in procuring a divorce - and was met with confusion. He was then told to contact legal aid in the UK - who were also stumped to how to begin the divorce process for Chris. 

He was eventually told he might have to travel to the United Kingdom in order to get divorced, although no one Chris contacted could confirm this. It looked to be a complicated, confusing, expensive, and time-consuming process, which Chris chose not to undertake.

Chris explains that his "painful breakup" led to an extremely difficult year, and one element he found particularly hard was people's reaction to his divorce. He though many treated it quite flippantly, with the sentiment of, 'sure, but it's not a REAL divorce'.

"It was really hard. It was almost as if, because my marriage wasn't legal in Australia, people thought it didn't have as much of a serious impact, in their mind. But for me, my marriage had ended and I was in grief, and I was still going through those motions."

But Chris clarified that he's still over the moon about the legalisation of same-sex marriage in Australia, and tells me that marriage is something he's always wanted: "When you realise you're gay, you go through this grieving process that you're not going to get married in Australia. But I would get married again, I think marriage is fantastic - you meet the right person, and you make a great team."

"It's a really wonderful thing that we'll have equality, we've fought so hard for it for such a long time. For me, it's like, 'oh no - I'm now legally married to this person who has hurt me very much', so it's a bittersweet experience. But I'm so grateful for the equality, it's what we've always wanted."

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Danika and Mel, ACT

Danika and Mel have been together for just over three years, and decided to tie the knot in Denmark, in April this year. 

Danika and Mel held a big party in Australia first, so they could celebrate with their loved ones before making it official overseas. 

"We had two [weddings]," she explains. "One that felt like a proper wedding in Australia; Mel's mum officiated, we wrote our own vows, ate, drank and danced up a storm surrounded by all of our family and friends. None of it was legal though, not even as a civil partnership.

"Then we jumped on a plane two days later and did the legal bit in at the city hall in Copenhagen - it took about three minutes."

Danika says that the couple are both "over the muthaflippin' moon!" at the prospect of waking up legally married.

While they haven't considered having any kind of event to commemorate the recognition of their marriage, Danika confirms that "there will be some kind of celebration for sure". 

Andrew and Bill, NSW

Andrew and Bill have been together for 28 years now, and married in Vancouver, Canada 10 years ago. 

The couple's wedding was held at the celebrants house and witnessed by a friend of a friend, and they honeymooned in Vancouver, then on to Seattle for a few days. 

In 2007, they held a 're-enactment' when they returned home to Australia for family and friends, and say that after same-sex marriage is legalised, a mass re-enactment for same-sex couples married overseas would be nice idea. 

"We have a son and two grandchildren interstate - would love to do something in front of them."

The couple state that they're "absolutely excited," at the prospect of being legally wed in an instant, adding: "It’s nice to be recognised in our own country."

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Tania and Desiree, QLD

Tania and Desiree remember the exact day they got together - Friday the 13th October, 2006. The couple got married on their 11th anniversary, which just so happened to be the next 'Friday the 13th' in October that had occurred since they'd gotten together. "It was a sign!" Tania laughs.

They married in a registry office in Auckland, and were joined by their two best friends and Tania's little sister and brother-in-law, as well as their two children. 

"We had a big party at our house on our return from New Zealand, with the bulk of our close friends and family to celebrate our wedding. It was great - we had a hot dog van, great people and copious amounts of champagne."

Tania and Desiree are excited that their marriage will be recognised retrospectively, particularly for things like paperwork and legal forms - and for peace of mind for the future.

"I'm really excited about the reality of our marriage becoming legal in Australia. I no longer want to have to tick the box of 'de facto spouse' when completing paperwork, or have to worry from the horror stories I have heard from the LGBTQI+ community when it comes to issues they have experienced during financial or medical crises."

Desiree and Tania have no plans to hold another ceremony once same-sex marriage passes here, with Tania explaining: "We are already married legally, in many countries in the world - it's about time Australia came to the party!"

Chris and Victor, NSW

Chris and Victor have been together for eight and a half years, and got married on the island of Madeira in 2013. 

The couple celebrated their commitment in a ceremony in Sydney's Botanic Gardens in 2011 - which the couple "saw as their 'real wedding'" - then travelled to the Portuguese island to sign the paperwork two years later.

"The one thing we did in advance was to pack the wedding topper from our original wedding cake in Sydney to put on the cake in Madeira, so there would at least be some link between the two weddings."

The couple had a small number of people to witness their ceremony, including Victor's childhood friends and neighbours, his Madrinhas (godmothers). 

Chris says that the automatic recognition of their marriage gives the couple a great sense of relief, explaining: "We've done enough paperwork already, I was hoping we wouldn't have any more red tape to wade through! It's a strange feeling when we leave Portugal, the UK or other countries where our marriage is recognised, but by the time we touch down in Sydney we're suddenly unmarried again. It will make coming home a much happier experience."

Chris says that due to having a big celebration in 2011, they aren't likely to have another formal event to commemorate the day. "Any excuse for a party, though!" says Chris.

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Stephen and Ian (1946 - 2016), SA

Stephen and his husband, well-known LGBTQI+ activist Ian Purcell AM, were together for 25 years and married for 10 before Ian passed away in November last year. 

The pair got married in August of 2006 in Montreal, surrounded by a handful of friends who acted as their witnesses. They were there for the World Outgames, and were married by a "lovely French-speaking" Supreme judge, who mentioned she'd had been overrun by wedding requests from same-sex couples visiting for the LGBTQI+ sporting event. Canada was one of the only places in the world at the time that allowed same-sex marriages for non-residents.

Stephen says that his late husband - who received an Order of Australia (AM) in 2005 for his work as an activist for the LGBTQI+ community in South Australia - was "just the warmest, most generous, kindest person you could ever know."

"People at his funeral were saying he never had a falling out with anybody, he never had harsh words for anybody, he could deal with the most difficult, complicated, aggravating people and situations in an incredibly calm way. Of course, that made him a very effective advocate. He was able to progress things, when lots of other people would have given up. 

"He was very much into community building; he always thought it was a shame so many LGBTQI people left Adelaide to move to Melbourne or Sydney. His approach was to make the situation in Adelaide better for LGBTQI people so they don't have to leave - a real grass-roots community activist.

"He was an extraordinary person. I feel blessed I had that time with him."

He goes on to say that the historical moment of same-sex marriage being legalised, with the recognition of all overseas marriages, will be a bittersweet moment for him after the loss of his husband just over a year ago.

"Marriage equality has been used for the last 13 or so years as a political football - but these are our lives that they've been playing with. They forgot they were talking about real people.

"I fully support marriage equality, I love the fact that people can get married, I love the fact that people like us who got married overseas will get that recognition, but for some of us, we could have had marriage equality much earlier and our marriages would have been recognised.

"People like me lost our partners, and lost our ability to have that recognition."

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