When my daughter was a newborn we got sent all sorts gifts, many of them clothing. There was this one dress sent as a hand-me-down from a second or third cousin across the other side of the world that neither my partner nor myself had ever met. It was a pretty dress, inside the package was a card which mentioned it was her daughter’s favourite when she was little. I looked at the dress and thought how pretty it was and that we’d save it for a special occasion. It was probably only a size 1-2, but when your child weighs 3kgs you can’t imagine them fitting into that size for a very long time.
I thought to myself how pretty it would be as a flower girl’s dress. It wasn’t expensive, or extravagant, but we’re not the sort of people that would have an expensive or extravagant wedding. A garden wedding would be just fine, with inexpensive outfits we felt good in, and a small crowd of people close to us. Understated but special to us. That’s basically how we did it when we married years ago, except it wasn’t seen as anything more than friends gathering from a BBQ in the eyes of the law.
It’s been two years and my daughter has since outgrown six clothing sizes since we received that dress. When we got it I really thought there was a good chance we could get married before she had a chance to outgrow the dress. I often thought of the dress as the months passed, and it began to look less and less likely that she would ever wear it to our wedding. I thought I should put her in it anyway, just the once. I saw it in the cupboard the other day and realised she would have outgrown it around a year ago.
She never got to wear that dress. Kids have clothes they outgrow before they ever get a chance to wear them all the time. None of the other clothes she outgrew ever bothered me like this one. While I was waiting, for the 15th year in a row to be able to just get married, amongst many other things my kid outgrew that dress.
It got me thinking about all the waiting, and all the times I’ve felt so close to being able to have that simple right and then felt it slip away again. Here are some of the things that I have seen while waiting for the right to marry.
I have waited through six different Prime Minister’s (five if you take into consideration that one of them was the same dude twice) to get married.
I have waited through 15 years of ‘debate’ over if people like me are really classed as ‘people’ at all, and if our relationships count.
I have waited through 8 years since the government decided that we were equal enough to tax the same as everyone else, but not equal enough to let us have wedding cake.
I have waited through four wedding ceremonies where my partner and I awkwardly try to sink into a hole in the ground as the celebrant says the words ‘Marriage under Australian law is the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.’ I know the words verbatim at this point. I have sat through awkward glances in our direction from uncomfortable people around us, or the bride and groom/wedding party who silently try to convey to us with sad eyes and apologetic facial expressions that they’re sorry. That they had to have the celebrant say that because it is the law. We know already, we know all about that, and that it’s not your fault. How your marriage would be no more real in the eyes of the law if you didn’t remind us that ours doesn’t really exist. We know it isn’t a legally binding marriage unless those words are said, how John Howard introduced that wording into the Marriage Act in 2004 when I was 16 because he was afraid that people like me would fall in love and want to get married one day and that terrified him. We know. Please just get back to your wedding vows.
I have waited through two pregnancies. I have gone from picturing our wedding without children, to me waddling pregnant down the aisle at the last minute if things finally became legal in time. To our daughter as a baby being there, then as she grew her as a flower girl, now her with a sister.
I have waited through hundreds of petitions I have signed, that never seemed to go anywhere.
I have waited since before the majority of Australians supported marriage equality in the polls.
I have waited since 2015, when a man who had been with his fiance for five years was denied rights to be recognised as his next of kin, in a hospital five minutes from my home.
I have waited through a line at my local chemist to have a pharmacist I’ve never met before witness a statutory declaration stating that we were in a ‘significant relationship’ so we could both be put on our child’s birth certificate.
I have waited through rallies and marches in the rain. I have spoken at them. I have begun to feel tired and defeated and now I stay home.
I have waited through so many internet trolls that they don’t even make me mad anymore.
I have waited through 22 other countries beating Australia to the punch, thinking each time we can’t be that far away.
These are some of the things I have waited through so far. When I hear about gay people who have died I often wonder what they waited through. If they thought, like I have for years, that it must be just around the corner and that one day their waiting would be over. If they’d picked their wedding song out, if they knew which venue they wanted to have their wedding in. If what they planned to wear still fits them now, or has gone out of fashion. How many more grey hairs and wrinkles they have now, how they have to keep adjusting the image in their mind of how their wedding will look as the years pass. How many children they pictured as flower girls and ring bearers who are now far too old for that? How many loved ones who can no longer attend because they have passed away.
Sometimes I think about the gay couple who died in a freak accident at a theme park last year. How they were probably waiting too, how they would have thought they had time, just like I often find some comfort in reminding myself that it will happen one day. Except one day never came for them.
I wonder if the media would have spoken of them differently if they had been married. Referring to them as a married couple, instead of a brother and sister duo holidaying together, along with the brother’s partner. Like his partner was an afterthought. Like his partner was a family friend. Or an acquaintance he happened to be seated next to when they died. Like his partner never brought him chicken soup and nursed him back to health when he was sick. Like they never had in jokes, or a favourite TV show they watched together every Friday night. Like they never sat through a friends wedding holding each others hands, listening to those words reminding them of exclusion and thought one day things won’t be this way.
Sometimes when I look through photographs I see a look that I am giving my partner. A special look that says I adore you, that you’re the funniest/coolest/most awesome person I could ever hope to meet and I love you. I see it reflected back at me from her often. I saw it in the pictures I took today while in the waiting room of the Women’s Imaging service about to have an ultrasound to see our second child. I saw it in the picture she took of me sitting at the picnic bench after she told a silly joke and made me laugh. I saw it when she looked at our daughter doing something incredible and then up at me for just a moment like we were her whole world.
I see that look and I feel happy and privileged in ways I can’t begin to describe that I have someone that looks at me like that. Then I feel sad, frustrated and impatient that there is just so much waiting.