Many of us can remember the euphoria of 15 November 2017, the day the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the results of the “yes” vote on marriage equality. I recall I was in a massive crowd outside the State Library in Swanston Street in Melbourne, waiting for the announcement.
In the hour prior to the results being announced, the mood swung several times from positive and hopeful to concerned and depressed, and discussions wavered from the joy and thrill of “it” finally being all ok and marriage being legal for all people over the age of 18 in Australia, to “if we lose, what will be the next steps?”. I won’t go over the flood of high emotions that followed the announcement, but they will forever be remembered by many of us.
So, what’s happened since then? Well, more than 5000 LGBTI couples have got married. As a gay marriage celebrant who’s taken more than 60 LGBTI wedding bookings in that time, it’s been wonderful to see a great range of couples come forward to be joined together. Many have been together for decades. For lots of them, getting married has been about reaffirming that and ensuring they both have the legal rights afforded them by marriage that straight couples have always enjoyed. For others, where one party has been seriously ill, it’s been an opportunity to stitch up the legal rights that come with marriage but also to get the same respect from hospitals and other health service providers that straight couples have always received – and, yes, I have heard some horror stories. I’ve seen the bravery of numerous LGBTI couples from countries where marriage equality is far from being legal, couples who have travelled to Australia to get married just to commit to each other in a formal way, even though that marriage won’t be recognized back home. In some of these countries, “homosexuality” is punishable by death, but these couples push forward because they just know it’s the right thing for them to do.
I’ve been surprised by the number of LGBTI couples who have been deeply closeted and, yet, wish to get married. Usually, these marriage ceremonies occur within their home with only their two witnesses and me present (or perhaps a handful of friends). They’re very short ceremonies but are full of as much love as many of the longer and more complex ceremonies. There are no photos posted to social media; there is no public indication that the marriage has taken place; and the couples are firm about need for secrecy, for the sake of retaining their jobs, their sporting team memberships, their church membership or their blood family’s cohesion. And, in lots of these ceremonies, there’s not a member of their blood family to be seen.
Other LGBTI couples have had a focus on the celebration associated with their marriage, preferring to spend their limited funds on lovely food and fabulous beverages for their guests rather than on the trimmings often associated with straight weddings. So, they may invite 40 or 50 guests to a small venue not typically associated with the wedding industry, often on a weekday, and there’s not a table of 10 with an alternate-drop menu in sight! The MO is casual, standup, mingling, grazing table, informal party. The word “reception” isn’t uttered. And whilst there may be a rainbow or two in full view, people are there because they know the couple deeply rather than because they are friends of the parents who happen to be paying for the party.
And, of course, I’ve been the celebrant at some big gay weddings. There’ve been rainbow sashes and arches, rainbow cakes, rainbow tablecloths for the signing table and rainbow coloured balloons on the dance-floor. And those touches have put people in a great mood for a wonderful celebration of the marriage that has just taken place. But they’ve been the exception rather than the rule.
On a more serious side, of course, marriage equality was only ever one more step in the fight for genuine equality for LGBTI people.
Since marriage equality became a reality in Australia in December 2017, it is now legal for LGBTI couples to adopt children in all states and territories, including the Northern Territory. Discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identification is outlawed in every jurisdiction, apart from in religious schools which still retain the right to refuse students and teachers on those bases. Tasmania has now made it optional for the gender of a person to be included on their birth certificate. The gay panic defence remains law in SA – work still needs to be done on that. Trans people are now more easily able to amend their gender on birth certificates although some states and territories still require trans people to undergo gender reassignment surgery first. And, in Victoria, married trans people no longer need to get a divorce in order to change their gender on their birth certificate. Non-binary people can now register a non-specific sex on various legal documents, but intersex people continue to face medical interventions in their early years.
There is still much more work to be done, particularly to ensure the rights of bisexual, trans and intersex people. The fight continues.
Gay Celebrant Melbourne