We sat down with Evan Cooper, founder of The Commitment Project.

Share your love with the world.

 A 38 year old gay man, Cooper was involved in community organizations for over a decade before branching out and starting his own project. He said that being part of community organizations “has shown me that everyday people can achieve amazing things when they do something they truly believe in.” Cooper believes in showing the world that there is no “gay” or “straight” marriage, there’s just one kind – and it’s all about the love.

Tell us about the project.

The Commitment Project is a documentary photo project that is documenting long-term gay and lesbian relationships in Australia. The base line I have used for “long term” is anything longer than the median length of an Australian Marriage, 8.8 years.

I am not defining what constitutes a committed relationship; that is for the couple to decide. All the couples are unique and define their relationships differently and I respect that. While most couples live together, some do not but this doesn’t mean they aren’t 100% committed to each other.

What inspired you to start the project?

The very first inspiration for the project started after watching both of my grandmothers lose their husbands after 50 and 60 years of marriage, respectively. I know that both couples were in love until the very end. This made me wonder if I, as a gay man, would ever be able to achieve such a thing.

Then, with the whole gay marriage debate, I decided I would collect images that I could show to politicians to say that all of these people have beaten the benchmark for a heterosexual marriage, shouldn’t their relationships be just as respected under the law as hetero ones?

My current driving force is more than just images to show the political leaders. My aims for the project are:

1.    For political leaders to look at and realize they should show respect to lesbians and gays and grant marriage equality

2.    For young GLBT people to look at and know that they have just as much chance of falling in love, finding your soul mate and possibly having a family as much as any straight person

3.    For the families of GLBT people to know that just because their child is queer doesn’t mean they will end up alone and unhappy

4.    For GLBT people that are yet to find the one, hopefully they can be inspired to not give up hope

5.    For the general public to look at the collection of images and see that gay and lesbian relationships are just as diverse in age, cultural backgrounds, body shapes and everything, just as hetero ones are, and that for all our differences we are the same in just wanting to be able to love who we love.

What were the challenges you faced in the beginning?

The biggest challenge I faced in the beginning was actually finding couples that fit the benchmark of 8.8 years. None of my close friends had achieved this and so it took a lot of time asking everyone I met how long they had been together and then asking them to ask their friends.

The second biggest hurdle was the ending of my own relationship at the time, my wanting to spend time on the project actually played a part in the break up and it was a bit hard to be motivated to document people who were happily in love when your own heart was broken. Actually making myself continue with the project has actually helped me heal as I have met so many inspiring people that really make me believe in love again.

How do you find people to photograph? Can anyone participate?

Currently I find people through things like this article, and word of mouth. People that have been involved with the project tell their friends etc.

I do not “cast” the photos in anyway. I generally don’t meet the couples until the day I take their photo and I’m not after a particular look. The only requirement is having been committed to each other for 8.8 years. I want to show the diversity of people within the queer community. Some people joke about wanting the images photoshopped but I do not think anyone needs that. The fact they have achieved something that I have not is admirable to me, and I would rather look at someone that inspires me rather than just someone I think is “hot”.

Many of the couples you photograph have been together for years, some for decades. What do those couples say about the fact that their relationship is not recognized as a marriage by Australian law?

All of the couples are deeply committed to each other no matter what the Australian government says. Some have travelled overseas so they can have an official wedding ceremony, others have stood on a beach and said wedding vows to each other with no one there to witness but themselves, some do not even want to ever get married BUT all of the couples believe they should have the right to make that decision and that their relationship is just as important as any heterosexual marriage.

What is the future of gay marriage in Australia?

I don’t think it is the future of “gay” marriage I think it is the future of marriage we should be looking at. Over the years marriage has evolved and change. Wedding vows for women used to be “love, honor and obey”. If we went to a wedding in 2011 and a women said that I think most people would be horrified. It was only in the early 1980s in NSW that the law was changed so that in marriage a women’s body was still her own and that she still had the right to consent to sex with her husband. Up until then, even if she refused him sex he couldn’t be charged with rape as her body was viewed as his property. We do not have dowries in the western world any more. All of these are historical parts of marriage that no longer exists, as they are not appropriate for our time.

Allowing same sex couples to marry is just the next evolution. The argument that states that marriage is about bringing children into the world is redundant when you look at the images, as there are same sex parents who are raising children. And in studies it has been shown that children of lesbian couples are better adjusted later in life than children from heterosexual couplings.

What is the future for The Commitment Project?

The future of The Commitment Project is that it will keep growing while I keep finding couples that want to be involved. I will keep promoting it so as many people can see and be inspired by the couples that I have met.

I would like to hold a physical exhibition of the images, but that is still very much in the planning stage as I would like to have it in a very public space so as many people can see, think and be inspired by the images as possible.

Soon I will be sending invites to political and opinion leaders asking them to view the images so it can hopefully open up intelligent discussion about the issue of true marriage equality.

How do people get in touch with you if they’d like to be photographed?

People can contact me via my email address [email protected] and put “The Commitment Project” in the title. They can also view the website at thecommitmentproject.net . I encourage everyone to look at the images and leave comments.

As my hair dresser once said to me, “if you like it tell your friends – if you don’t tell me.” I am more than happy to discuss the project with people even if they are against it. Intelligent debate is on thing. Outright homophobia is another.

I live in Sydney but am travelling to Melbourne for the Easter Break and am looking for couples to photograph then. JOY FM are letting me use one of their spaces, which is really great.

I will also travel to Brisbane and Perth later in the year and if people want to be involved they can let me know and I can let them know when it is happening close to them.