Canberra — Same-sex couples married in midnight ceremonies across Australia on Tuesday after the country’s last legal impediment to gay marriage expired.
Marriage equality became law on December 9 with overwhelming support in Parliament, but Australia’s requirement that all couples give a month’s notice for weddings made on Tuesday the first possible date for gay marriages.
Athletes Craig Burns and Luke Sullivan married at a midnight ceremony near the east coast city of Tweed Heads.
“It’s another way to show your love and appreciation of your partner in front of the people in your life,” said Burns, a 29-year-old sprinter who will compete in the Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast in April.
In Newcastle, north of Sydney, Rebecca Hickson, 32, married her partner of nine years, Sarah Turnbull, 34.
Hickson described the divisive build-up to a gay marriage ballot preceding Parliament’s vote as “a horrible time”. She said the couple wanted to be part of history by becoming one of the first lesbian couples to marry in Australia.
In the west coast city of Perth, Kelly and Sam Pilgrim-Byrne solemnised their 24-year-old relationship in a midnight ceremony on the steps of the Western Australia state legislature.
“It was never anything we considered because it was never anything that was available to us, so we never had those dreams about what would our wedding look like, what would we do, who would we invite, where would it be — we never, ever considered it because we never thought that it would happen in our lifetime,” Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Lainey Carmichael, 51, and Roz Kitschke, 46, married shortly after dawn before 65 guests at their home in the town of Franklin in the island state of Tasmania.
The early ceremony was mainly to avoid the summer heat, Kitschke said. “New day; new era — and we don’t like the heat that much,” she said.
The waiting period
Wedding guest Rodney Croome, a long-time marriage equality advocate and spokesperson for Tasmanians United for Marriage Equality, said: “This morning’s wedding marked the start of a new chapter in the lives of the two brides but also a new chapter in the life of the nation.”
“Today we are a more equal and inclusive country that treats all loving, committed couples the same,” Croome said in a statement.
The Australian Parliament overwhelmingly voted for same-sex marriage after a nationwide postal survey found that 62% of respondents wanted marriage equality.
The one-month waiting period was waived for some couples who wed in recent weeks. Those exceptional circumstances included a partner’s terminal illness and overseas-based relatives booking flights to Australia before the official start date for the new law was known.
Civil celebrant Charles Foley has been campaigning for years to get Australia to drop the one-month waiting period, which he said is among the longest in the world.
The federal government imposed it at the request of churches decades ago so parishioners would have time to say why they may object to some religious unions, Foley said.
Ireland has a waiting period of three months.
Australia and Ireland are the only countries that have put the question of legalising gay marriage to a popular vote.
Ireland held a legally binding referendum in 2015 to change its constitution. The referendum found 62% of respondents wanted marriage equality.
Australia’s conservative government held a non-binding postal survey to avoid dividing its own lawmakers and pledged to vote on the issue if Australians endorsed equality. They did, and lawmakers quickly passed the legislation.