When phrasing your gay marriage proposal, it is best to use a question. As I recall, I mumbled ‘I think we should get a civil partnership’ while jetlagged.
Later I changed it to ‘I want to be as married to you as I legally can be’. This is mainly paperwork.
Our relationship was first recognised under Defence Instructions (General) PERS 53-1. It was a catch-22: you needed to be living together for 90 days to get it, but she couldn’t live off base until we got it. Instead, shared bank accounts and wills and life insurance beneficiaries happened too early. We go through pre-cana questionnaires with a chaplain. For Defence, this counted as a marriage; we kept the paperwork with the Commandant’s signature.
Centrelink did not recognise the relationship at all; I was not independent. I reduced my course load to work for eighteen months.
We got an ACT civil partnership with family and flowers five years ago. The Deputy Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages officiated for us. He’d sat us down earlier and discussed the words we weren’t allowed to use – spouse, wife, married. ‘Civil partnericated’ does not roll off the tongue. I keep the receipt in my wallet.
On our honeymoon a hotel manager phoned our room twice, then came to our room to explain that there was a man downstairs for us. I said no, we asked the taxi to return tomorrow morning, it’s a mistake. He came to the room again, insistent, you need a man. We left. He was upset that we wouldn’t pay – we had only checked in an hour ago – and the cleaner restrained him. From the hotel across the road we wrote reviews and emailed the tourist board; three months later the hotel was operating under a different name.
The ACT introduced new legislation for marriage, with a brief window of opportunity. The Justice of the Peace at my placement in a religious institution interrogated me (‘I haven’t seen these forms before? Are they new?’). I avoided making arrangements because everything could fall apart. I proposed properly, with a question, on Wednesday night. On Thursday, the High Court reserved judgement, and we were hopeful – surely they wouldn’t overturn marriages that had just happened. We pulled our dresses (crumpled) out of the wardrobe. Our celebrant did a dozen weddings that weekend. I waited at the Office of Regulatory Services on Monday morning while they recalibrated their wedding certificate printer for ‘wife and wife’.
Our marriage lasted five days. We were one of four couples who requested the refund on the certificate fee; I pre-emptively spent the money having postcards printed of our wedding photo with pink heart stamps. I wrote on the back: this is me, getting married, this is my wife, this is important to us. I mailed them to politicians. I never ended up cashing the refund check.
I’ve collected so much paperwork because queer relationships are seen as not as real – not as serious, not worth supporting, not worth using meaningful words, something that exists for sex or titillation. Equality of marriage means equality of paperwork and equality of our relationships: one certificate.