A long engagement: Weddings waiting for marriage equality
During his late teens, Richard Steer was well aware it was illegal to be intimate with another man.
“When I was an 18-year-old boy, exploring what it was to be a gay man, you could be arrested for having sex with another man in Queensland,” he said.
The 47-year-old, who still lives in Brisbane, says although that law is now gone and the Australian state recognises his relationship with his long term partner, it won’t let them marry.
It has been a long engagement for Australian same-sex couples as it remains unclear if they will ever have the chance to legally wed.
Here are some of the weddings in waiting as the marriage equality debate returns again to the political agenda.
Richard and Michael – ‘One day he will be very sick’
“My partner has a very serious neurological disease and I am always very conscious that I need to explain my relationship with him,” said Mr Steer.
“I have a real legitimate fear that one day he will be very sick and somebody will stop me from going into his room to be with him.”
The economics consultant met his partner, Michael Batt, 44, in a pub on a Sunday afternoon.
About 10 years later they had a commitment ceremony to celebrate their relationship.
“Our friends and family call it our wedding, but it wasn’t legal,” he said.
The Brisbane pair, who have been together for 14 years, will marry again if it becomes legal in Australia.
“There are extended legal rights that you get through marriage,” he said.
“If [Michael] was on life support and I was not recognised as his partner that really concerns me. If I was married, I’d have a piece of paper to prove it.”
Annette and Kylie – Annulment was ‘a terrible feeling’
Annette Cairnduf, 48, and Kylie Gwynne, 50, were married legally in Australia’s capital, but a day later it was annulled.
“This marriage, of two people who had been together for 13 years, was declared invalid – so we’re not married anymore. But we were for 24 hours,” Annette Cairnduff said.
A High Court ruling that fell a day after their wedding also quashed the hopes of 31 other newlywed couples who had made vows during a brief window in 2013 when same-sex marriages were legal in the Australian Capital Territory.
“We joke about when we have our second marriage, I will marry my second wife,” she said.
The Sydneysider, who had never before considered getting married, said it was a “huge blow” to have her garden wedding ruled unlawful only hours later.
“It was hurtful, our relationship was legally invalid and that’s a terrible feeling. It was a terrible feeling a year later when we got to our first anniversary.”
Same-sex marriage in Australia
- A national non-binding ballot known as a plebiscite was blocked last October – some supporters of same-sex marriage were concerned the vote could be costly and fuel hate campaigns.
- The issue has recently returned to the political agenda with a postal ballot emerging as an option to resolve the deadlock.
- Successive polls have found Australians have considerably increased their support for same-sex marriage.
Ms Cairnduff, who has two sons – aged 18 and 10 – says she will marry her partner again if the laws change, but is adamant the legality would not change the nature of her relationship.
“It’s not like I am waiting to get married. I’ve been committed to Kylie for a long time now and that commitment is unwavering,” she said.
“It’s not about my commitment, it’s about the perception and the understanding and the valuing of my relationship differently to other relationships.”
Chelle and Kell – ‘We deserve the same rights’
Michelle Norris, 50, and Kelly Norris, 35, stepped out of stretch limousines to be given away by their mothers at their wedding in the Botanic Gardens on the outskirts of Sydney.
“We just wanted to get married and to us it was the real deal. It’s not legal but it meant as much as,” said Michelle Norris.
During the ceremony, the combined families – including five children and eight grandchildren – released multi-coloured balloons to celebrate the union.
Their marriage celebrant has promised to marry the pair again if the legislation changes and to hold the ceremony on the same date, 20 February.
The grandmothers, who have both been married to men before, have been together for four years.
“I hope it becomes legal, not just for us but for other couples as well. Heterosexual marriages don’t have it perfect either,” said Michelle.
The 50-year-old says she just wants the same rights “as everyone else”.
“I’ll introduce people to Kell as my wife and people look at you and say: ‘How can she be your wife’ – and they frown upon it,” she said.
“So many people say it and we’re just the same as them. We deserve the same rights as they do.”