Marriage: 'But is it even legal?'
A married lesbian defends her right to celebrate without the blessing of the law.
Pat Head Summitt
Pic by Kim Lee
It is much easier said than done to string a sentence together on the day of your wedding, let alone declare your vows of spending the rest of your life with the love of your life in front of your friends, parents and their partners (and let’s not forget the token “difficult” family members). And if that is not a wedding and the beginning of a marriage, then I am stumped as to what is. But what happens in the lead up to the big day when faced with answering “But…what’s the point? Is it even legal?”
It was a difficult and disappointing situation that Tan and I faced many times after excitedly telling some of our family and friends that we were getting married. And as you all must know by now, I had been dreaming of my wedding day since I can remember, but I never foresaw that some of my closest and dearest would react by asking ‘Why?’s and ‘How?’s. So how to answer if it happens to you?
First, I think it’s important to remember that some people just ask silly questions. They do not necessarily mean harm by asking them. It is particularly the older generation or religious relatives that simply are still living in a box. And, if you have any energy remaining, there’s a chance that you can help them! I know. It’s exhausting. It’s hard enough for most queer and gay people to live and love their identity and/or partner openly, let alone announce the news that they are going to get married! So the idea of having to justify why you have planned to publicly devote yourself to your partner is boring and daunting. Most of us have been there to some extent, done that, and don’t want to do it again.
If you take a moment to breathe deep, look them in the eye, and respectfully suggest that it might possibly be for the same reasons that they married their partner/s (or that their friends/family/uncles sisters distant cousin got married), then perhaps they will start to feel a little silly. If this doesn’t work, and they continue by saying “Yeah, but is it even legal in Australia?” Well, firstly you hope that they are joking and that they know it isn’t legal, and secondly you try in your best way to remind them that the law cannot and will not ever govern who and how you love. That being said, some of our friends and relatives will simply never accept our lives, and it is impossible for me to give advice to everyone's unique situation.
All I can do is relate to our experiences, and for us it just meant being selective of those that we would invite to our wedding. We did not want to risk ruining our big day by inviting someone we knew did not fully support us. We thought it was funny that some people were suddenly so concerned about what the law did and did not allow us. They were sometimes the same people that had broken the law or had anarchist policies at least to some degree, and suddenly when love and commitment were concerned (of all things!), some of these people were getting their knickers in a twist. That’s not to say that having equal rights is not high on our agenda, but it is to say that marriage can and should mean so much more than signing a contract and legally binding yourself to someone.
What made our marriage so utterly amazing and dreamy, or in this case “justifiable”, was what makes a lot of marriages so… um, worthwhile? It is the fact that you have spent as much or as little time planning the biggest celebration of your life to enjoy with the people that you call family. Some of them have been there through thick and thin, and they might be the only few that you decide to invite! Or in our case, you might be lucky enough to have an amazingly supportive network of friends, which gives you a great excuse to create a bit of a bonanza. Our family and friends traveled from interstate, New Zealand, and even England, just to be there with us, and it took over 9 months of planning, gluing bunting, collecting jars, and organising.
But suddenly, before we knew it, it was the day of our wedding and there everyone was: taking their seats, sipping their old school lemonades, waiting for us to walk down the aisle to proclaim our love. Tan arrived before me, and hid in the granary with her mum, brothers and best woman. She was to walk down the aisle first and wait for me to arrive. And as she stood there (in a remarkably calm state mind you), she watched on in almost disbelief. Here she was at the window, watching my father shake hands with our closest friends, her nephew excitedly setting up his camera, my beautiful baby boy in his bow tie and suspenders playing with the balloons, our friends hugging her grandmother, and everyone more importantly smiling from ear to ear.
I kind of wish I could have been there to see that. It’s something that Tan could have never imagined happening to her, and something that she will never forget. Because as she walked out of the granary to walk down the aisle, there were over 100 of the best people that we could have ever dreamt of having in our lives smiling and crying, ushering ‘Wow’s and ‘I love you’s. I could easily sit here and write about the following six hours of endless tears, moving speeches, the amount of time and effort my mum put in to arranging all of the flowers on our tables with my aunty the day before the wedding, or the song that Tan’s dad wrote for her and played on his guitar that evening (bringing everyone to even more tears), but that might be for another time.
Despite being two women and having a wedding ceremony in a country that does not allow it, there is no doubt in our and our guests’ minds that we got married on that day. I guess, like most things, it is how you define it. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters. Love is love.
For lesbian and queer weddings to inspire and admire check out my blog!