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
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