"You are now husband and husband."
Those six short words have been a long time coming, but marriage equality is finally here. I'm hugely proud to have conducted Australia's first legal wedding for a male same sex couple, and it gave me such pleasure to be able to say those very words.
All weddings are special but Ben and Yoshi's wedding in Sydney's Centennial Park was especially significant. It was a really exciting day both professionally and personally. As guests started to arrive to toast the happy couple, they had no idea we were about to make history.
The story began two days earlier with a phone call from Ben. He wanted to know if he had a special case to get married in just 48 hours? Under Australian law, couples must wait a month before they are able to marry. With the Marriage Act amended on December 9th, we were expecting the first legal same sex weddings on January 9th. However, news emerged of a Victorian couple who'd been allowed to shorten that waiting period because they'd had a big ceremony planned for months. There are certain exceptions to the rule and ceremony arrangements is one of them.
Ben and Yoshi had also arranged their commitment ceremony many months ago before anyone knew their date would coincide with the law change. So armed with the required evidence, we all went to see the Registrar at NSW Births Deaths and Marriages to seek permission for a shortening of time.
It was an anxious wait. With Yoshi and Ben in the interview room, I sat outside feeling like an expectant father waiting for news. The Registrar knew if she said yes, she was possibly giving permission for Australia's very first same sex marriage, so it was a big decision. When she did agree, there were high fives and lots of excitement - and then the realisation we now needed to act fast.
With same sex marriage being so fresh, celebrants had only been given the new legal paperwork to register marriages a few days before. One of the big changes was to the official Certificate of Marriage. Up until now, the words "bride" and "bridegroom" had been printed on it. Those certificates are unique and are printed by the Government's official stationers, Canprint, in Canberra. But when I went to order, they had none in stock. After all, nobody was expecting to use any for another month.
NSW BDM didn't have any. A call to the Attorney-General's department also yielded no results. I started to worry because without the correct paperwork, I wouldn't be able to process the marriage correctly. But then on a Facebook group, I spotted a celebrant in the Blue Mountains who had managed to pre-order a pack of certificates. So a few hours later, I was in the car on a road trip to get some from her. Karen Ainley was a lifesaver and only too happy to contribute to a little piece of history. With the correct paperwork in place, we were good to go!
Since the Yes result was announced in November, same sex couples have been riding an enormous wave of love and excitement, rushing to book their long-awaited weddings. Already I'm well into double figures for early 2018. And I know I'm not alone. We're going to see two distinct phases of celebrations. Firstly (and this is already happening) will be the couples who have been together for a long time, or have already had a form of big celebration. They simply seek legal recognition, and so are marrying in very small and low key ways. Then in six months to a year from now, we'll see the really big parties; those couples who've been holding on for the law to change. Big events like weddings take a few months to organise so you can expect your invites to arrive in the post early in the new year.
Ben and Yoshi had decided to keep the legal aspect of their wedding a surprise for their guests, and they'd also decided to keep it private, away from media attention. After some beautiful speeches from family and friends, I took the mic to say a few words of my own. When I introduced myself as a Marriage Celebrant, there was an audible gasp as the penny dropped as to why I was there. To claps and cheers from the guests, I was finally able to declare them to be husband and husband; those hugely significant words I've been looking forward to saying for a long time.
They weren't the only trailblazers tying the knot. Just 20 minutes earlier a few kilometres away at Camden, Amy and Lauren became Australia's very first same sex couple to marry. Their wedding was headline news. Later that day I spoke to Amy to congratulate them on being first across the line. She told me, "I’ve been asked lots of times how it feels to be the first. My response, which hasn't really been reported widely, is amazing - but I don’t think we should have been the first. This should have passed parliament a long time ago. Congratulations to the entire community and all those that are yet to marry. Please pass on my best wishes to the lovely couple you married. We are so very happy for them and hope they had as much of a lovely day as we did."
A momentous day in Australian history, but also a momentous day in both couple's personal history. And they're the first of many. 2018 is going to be an amazing year of love.
Ben and Yoshi were married at Centennial Park, Sydney
By Stephen Lee, Sydney Marriage Celebrant