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I do, I do, I do … yes, I do

Geoff Helisma

With the same-sex marriage laws coming into force on December 7, 2017, the marriage industry is set to have a spike in economic activity; in fact, pundits have written of estimates up to $2billion.

But wading through the hyperbole that some high profile newspapers like to spruik, perhaps this widely reported quote from ANZ senior economist Cherelle Murphy, who said additional expenditure on weddings could be $650 million in the first 12 months, is closer to the mark.
However, while those mastheads like to print big numbers, Ms Murphy’s statement (made before the vote was taken) rated the introduction of same-sex weddings as having “a positive, though very small, impact on economic activity”.
The 2016 Census revealed that there are 43,627 same-sex couples in Australia – 22,226 male couples and 21,407 female couples –, up 11,250 since the 2011 Census.
Of those couples, 6.7 per cent reported they were husband or wife, rather than de-facto – 6.4 per cent for male couples and 7.1 per cent for female couples.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) speculates: “The reasons why people in Australia might report that they are the husband or wife of someone of the same sex cannot be known from Census data.
“Possible reasons include having been married in a jurisdiction other than Australia; having registered their relationship under state or territory law; having gone through a ceremony; regarding themselves as married; or considering that husband or wife is the term that best describes their relationship.”
With some of these findings in mind, the Independent caught up with Yamba-based marriage celebrant Christine Preston, who has been conducting marriages and ‘commitment’ ceremonies since 2004.
“I love the privilege to be able to share one of the happiest days of someone’s life,” Chris says. “It’s a pretty amazing experience when you see people at their happiest.”
At the time of the interview, just before Christmas, Chris had two bookings for same-sex marriages – two men in Ballina in February and two women in Grafton in April.
Surprisingly (to this writer anyway), Chris has in the past performed commitment ceremonies for both heterosexual and same sex couples.
“It’s where they’re totally committed and wanted to acknowledge their relationship, but, of course, they couldn’t make it legal,” she says.
“The weddings were exactly the same as a normal wedding ceremony, just with the legal wording taken out.”
So why choose a commitment ceremony?
“Sometimes for legal reasons, like a divorce hasn’t come through yet … or they’re married in another country and they want to have a wedding in their local area and they might have family here.
“But legally, a celebrant must tell the guests it’s not a legal wedding.”
Another surprise, something that didn’t make it into the public discourse before the vote was taken: there were protests against the ‘no’ case and support for the ‘yes’ case at heterosexual weddings.
“People have asked me to say something [after] I said the legal part, ‘between a man and a woman’.
“I was asked to make a comment along the lines of: ‘And hopefully one day the law will change and anybody in love will be able to marry.
“A couple of times when I’ve said that, I’ve actually had people clap – somebody gay come up to me later and said, ‘That was great … we appreciated it.’
“I had one couple say they want everybody to cover their ears when I said the words, ‘between a man and a woman’.
“I checked with the Attorney General’s department and they said it was definitely not allowed, the ceremony must be heard by the couple, the witnesses and the guests present.”
There are a few practical issues to cover, too.
“I had to order new marriage certificates for same sex couples,” says Chris. “On that certificate, where it used to have bride and bridegroom, it is now blank.
“And the main documents couples have to sign a month before they get married, that’s actually changed too – now it is party 1 and party 2, and there’s an option to tick a box where it’s a groom, a bride or a partner.
“Sometimes two same sex
people might be two brides or two grooms.”