IT’S FAR MORE THAN JUST A PIECE OF PA­PER

A YEAR AF­TER AUS­TRALIANS RESOUNDINGLY SUP­PORTED THE RIGHT FOR SAME SEX COU­PLES TO MARRY, TWO TOWNSVILLE COU­PLES SHARE THEIR STO­RIES OF LOVE AND AC­CEP­TANCE

Townsville Bulletin - Townsville Eye - - Feature - B E T T I N A WA R B U RTON

It may only be a piece of pa­per but to two Townsville same-sex cou­ples it means the world.

Stephen Smith and Arne Hel­lum ex­changed vows at Mag­netic Is­land re­cently and say the sig­nif­i­cance of their wed­ding cer­tifi­cates pro­found.

“It is more than just a wed­ding cer­tifi­cate to us,” Arne says. “It means ev­ery­thing to us that our re­la­tion­ship is legally val­i­dated and we have the same rights as any other cou­ple.”

And Emma Grundy and Lisa Met­calfe couldn’t agree more.

Emma and Lisa wed in May in front of both their fam­i­lies and clos­est friends.

“Our wed­ding cer­tifi­cate is framed and hangs in our home,” Emma says. “It means the world to us to know that the next gen­er­a­tion of young gay peo­ple can grow up know­ing their feel­ings are not against the law.

“From a prac­ti­cal point of view as a cou­ple it is im­por­tant in terms of wills and next-of-kin. And when we have chil­dren to be able to have both our names of our child’s birth cer­tifi­cate is hugely im­por­tant to us.”

The two lo­cal cou­ples are one of 29 same-sex mar­riages held in Townsville since the “yes” vote last year.

Mar­riage equal­ity leg­is­la­tion was passed December 8 but cou­ples had to wait a fur­ther 30 days be­fore be­ing able to tie the knot.

Stephen says he and Arne, who are both busi­ness iden­ti­ties in Townsville, were “hor­ri­fied” with the neg­a­tive feed­back that came from the “No” camp in the lead up to the same-sex mar­riage vote last year.

“It re­ally up­set us,” he said. “We were very much against the vote it­self. The politi­cians should have got on with the job and voted for mar­riage equal­ity in par­lia­ment rather than put it to the pub­lic where all those aw­ful, neg­a­tive stig­mas about our com­mu­nity were raised. ”

Emma says she and Lisa didn’t be­lieve the com­mu­nity would sup­port the “yes’ vote.

“There was so much nas­ti­ness to it all,” she says. “We de­cided to plan a com­mit­ment cer­e­mony re­gard­less of the vote.

“When the vote was sup­port­ive of mar­riage equal­ity, of course we were thrilled.

“We changed the com­mit­ment cer­e­mony to a wed­ding cer­e­mony.”

Emma says chil­dren were “100 per cent on our radar”.

“I will be preg­nant, I will be the one car­ry­ing the baby,” she says. “We are plan­ning two ba­bies to be­gin with and see how we go once we have the two.

“We are look­ing to start try­ing in the next few months.”

Stephen and Arne say it is their “heart­felt wish” that the progress made as a re­sult of mar­riage equal­ity laws be­ing passed would help the younger gen­er­a­tion.

“Arne and I hope that the next gen­er­a­tion of gay peo­ple won’t have it so tough as we did com­ing out,” he says. “Le­gal­is­ing a gay cou­ple’s union hope­fully will help young peo­ple who are strug­gling com­ing to terms with their sex­u­al­ity.

“We are so grate­ful to the gay com­mu­nity of the 70s and on­wards, and grate­ful for how much work has gone into be­ing ac­cepted and em­braced by the com­mu­nity.

“It wouldn’t have been easy to come out as gay in the 80s when AIDS was at the fore­front.”

Stephen, a fa­ther-of-two, said he sunk into a dark pit of de­pres­sion af­ter leav­ing his wife of 17 years to live as a gay man in Townsville 12 years ago.

“I was un­set­tled for about five years, I had plenty of psy­cho­log­i­cal sup­port but it was a very dif­fi­cult time,” he says. “I am so grate­ful that my chil­dren sup­ported me from the get-go. That was very im­por­tant to me.”

Four years ago Stephen and Arne met and they both say they knew they had met their soul­mate.

Arne says com­ing out as a gay man in the mid-1990s was “nerve-rack­ing”.

“I knew all my life (I was gay) but I pre­tended it was not go­ing to be my life so I tried to fit in with a typ­i­cal sex­ual lifestyle un­til I was 35,” he says. “I was pretty ner­vous to come out as I owned a tourism busi­ness on Mag­netic Is­land and peo­ple knew me as a het­ero­sex­ual so I thought com­ing out could de­stroy my busi­ness.

“But I was pleas­antly but to­tally sur­prised the com­mu­nity sup­ported me and how easy it was. I know that many peo­ple have a much harder time get­ting that ac­cep­tance than I did.”

Emma and Lisa say they came out when they were 14 and 15 re­spec­tively.

While Lisa’s fam­ily em­braced her with sup­port from the start, it took a while for Emma’s fam­ily to come around.

“Fam­ily is im­por­tant to us, so it was so beau­ti­ful to have Emma and my fam­ily travel from down south to be at our wed­ding,” Lisa says. “I am not sure if ev­ery­one thinks their wed­ding was sur­real but it was for us.

“We felt we were in our own bub­ble and it was so beau­ti­ful that we had both our fam­i­lies and our friends share in our spe­cial day.”

Stephen and Arne, who mar­ried on Mag­netic Is­land in Au­gust this year, agreed their wed­ding day was “memorable” for all who at­tended, both fam­ily and friends.

Arne and Stephen’s wed­ding was not a con­ven­tional

wed­ding, which is ex­actly how they wanted it to be.

“We walked down the aisle with bur­lesque dancers hold­ing silk fans and we also had fire twirlers to add that bit ex­tra to the oc­ca­sion,” Stephen says. “It was deeply im­por­tant for us that our cel­e­brant, who is a very dear friend (Brunette Smith) could now legally bind our lives to­gether.”

But one of the most poignant mo­ments of Stephen and Arne’s wed­ding was the cutting of the cake.

“We cut the wed­ding cake with a sword that has been in my fam­ily since the first world war,” Arne says. “My great, great un­cle Ma­jor Thomas Fer­gu­son was in the light horse in Lis­more and the sword was his.

“It has been used to cut the cakes at all the fam­ily’s wed­dings for the past 100 years so it was so lovely to use it for my wed­ding.

“It is a nice pro­gres­sion from us­ing it for the tra­di­tional wed­dings in the fam­ily to now use it for the first same-sex wed­ding in the fam­ily.

“There is a way to go yet, but so­ci­ety has come a long way in terms of equal­ity and ac­cep­tance for gay peo­ple.

“I can only hope that we are paving the way for an eas­ier road for younger peo­ple who are gay.”

LISA AND EMMA MET­CALFE AT THE PALMETUM AND (ABOVE RIGHT) ON THEIR WED­DING DAY. PIC­TURE: EVAN MOR­GAN

ARNE HEL­LUM AND STEPHEN SMITH PROUDLY HOLD THEIR WED­DING CER­TIFI­CATE AND (ABOVE) CUTTING THE WED­DING CAKE WITH THE FAM­ILY HEIR­LOOM SWORD

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