On 9th December 2017 it became law in Australia that two people could marry regardless of gender. Love and equality finally prevailed.
On Friday 15th of December something truly beautiful and poignant happened; two people fulfilled a wish of a long time. A community of strangers; family, friends, photographer, celebrant, magistrate, clerks and registrar pulled together to make this marriage happen in time. It would not be the first same sex ceremony I or others had witnessed in Australia, but possibly the first I had seen recognised by Australian law. It was an emotional moment when I read out the words of the new act; a privilege, an honour, and about time. A sacred moment on a sacred day.
Two words had changed in the Marriage Act, substituting “man a woman”, for “two people”, and for Jo and Jill that changed everything.
The first I knew of their love was a phone call on Thursday from Cittamani palliative care telling me a tale of Jo, a woman with a rare cancer, who wished to finally legally marry her beloved Jill. It was Jo’s persistence that had kept the idea alive. Jill was unsure how it could be achieved. She had read about the one month waiting period. But how could it happen in their own home at short notice? Cittamani nurses decided to ring me and pose the question. As a celebrant I am aware that under exceptional circumstances a shortening of time can be granted by the Registrar.
I met with Jill Thursday afternoon at the courthouse. She had tried to get all the paperwork sorted, signed, witnessed and lodged with the Magistrate. It just wasn’t possible that afternoon, we needed Jo’s signature, and it was 4.30pm.
I met Jo Thursday evening. Evenings are good for her. She had energy. And her bright blue eyes and delightful smile told me all I needed to know about their resolve to be married. Witnessing Jill and Jo together was a love story, quite convincingly profound. I was taken with the dozens of photos on the wall from their 2013 commitment ceremony – a day of promise, filled with family and friends. A true wedding day. I realised I had met two amazingly beautiful women, with a deep connection and strong commitment to each other.
Jill was firm in her wish that the marriage happen, but was feeling torn. Going back to the courthouse the next day was tricky. She wanted to stay and care for Jo. This marriage was important. So I offered to go instead. At 8.30 am the next day, Friday, I was outside the Nambour Courthouse at opening time. The local magistrate understood immediately and faxed the application direct to Brisbane, following it up with a phone call to convey the urgency.
On the other end, the Queensland Registry of Births Deaths and Marriages recognised the importance of this request, and sped through the process.
Within the half hour, the stamped approval came back. I could prepare the marriage papers right away: new formats, fresh from the Attorney General, and those important new words, “two people”. I was ecstatic. Jo and Jill were going to be married that afternoon! They were ecstatic.
Several more emails arrived from Births, Deaths and Marriages. They wished to offer a free registered marriage certificate and what’s more they would do it immediately. This is a process that usually takes weeks. I was so delighted by their care and understanding that I offered to hand deliver the papers to the Brisbane office first thing Monday morning, to help out the process. They made a better suggestion, and we made a plan.
I phoned a colleague and asked if she’d be willing to be photographer at this special event in a couple of hours. I knew she’d say yes. Thanks to Marion Jonkers for the professional photos of this auspicious day.
A garden lovingly created by Jo and Jill as a shared passion, provided the perfect setting for a wedding; beds of herbs, flowers, rock seats and wooden doorways. Jo’s namesake rose was in bloom. The herbs were fragrant. Everything looked divine for their wedding.
Jo’s friend cancelled all her clients, and turned up with her hair and makeup skills. “Do what you can!” said Jo, always in good humour. Jo’s Mum and husband were there. Jill’s sister too. They had come at a moment’s notice.
We sat in the cool of the garden. I read from Leunig, and spoke of ceremony, love and choosing. With profound tears in my eyes I proudly read the new marriage statement. They reiterated their vows from years ago, adding the sentence from the new marriage act. They exchanged wedding rings, held hands and gaze. Their broad smiles were all that was needed to express a deep and sincere joy at finally being married, wife and wife. “Hey Mrs”.
We embrace ceremony and ritual when something truly profound is happening in our lives. We do this because we need to make a space, in time and place, to honour the unseen world that we carry within us. Ceremony takes a moment away from the usual hum of life, to contemplate and warmly acknowledge an emotional world. Inner feelings become front and centre for the day. A marriage acknowledges this. It is always a special ceremony. This wedding was extremely special and sacred.
After the vows, I enacted the plan to deliver the certificates immediately. Births Deaths and Marriages Queensland wished to honour this special occasion by delivering the registered marriage certificate that very day. The Principal Project Officer drove north from the Brisbane office. And I drove south from the northern beaches. We met at a roadside station, sat at a truckies’ table and exchanged the precious paperwork.
I then drove back to join the reception and hand deliver their certificate. Jo and Jill had been approved, married and registered within one day!
When Jill was asked how long have you and Jo been together she responded, “a lifetime; and yet not long enough.”
Jo’s Mum told me, “Today is the happiest day of my life. On the day I married my own true love, I thought that was the happiest day of my life, and I thought I couldn’t get any happier. But actually today, I am happier, witnessing my daughter able to fulfil her wish to marry her own beloved.”
Jo’s touching speech recognised a day of love and compassion from a community made up of people she had just met, or had never met, and may never get to meet at all. The day was made possible by the goodwill of a community of all kinds of people with different roles and different commitments and different lives, wanting these two to be married in time.
Endings depend on where one leaves the story. The tale always continues. We rest here with the newly weds, Jill and Jo, for marriage according to the law of Australia is the full commitment or union of two people.
Friday 15th December 2017
(with editing assistance by Glenda and Jessi)
Thanks to Cittamani Hospice, Nambour Courthouse, Queensland Births, Deaths and Marriages, Russell, Marion, Tracey and Emily.