For the first time in Melbourne’s history, several wedding planners have come together to help same-sex couples organise their special day.
The event took place in a small cafe in the city called The Little Mule Cafe, with several performances from drag queen Suzie Ridge. “People here sort of know what we like,” Ridge says about the showcase. “We’re more about the celebration and the party and not so much about the ceremony part of it.”
Bronte Price, a celebrant for LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex) weddings and a gay man himself, planned the August 7 event. He says, “The numbers were smaller than we anticipated from the number of tickets that people had procured but the vibe and the noise level were both really good.”
When asked about why marriage equality did not result in as much of an economic boom as expected, he says, “The economic modelling was done by straight economists who based it on straight weddings.” According to him, the economists used Australian Bureau of Statistics data to find that there were 49,000 couples that identified as same-sex couples in the 2016 census. They decided that half of those would get married in the first year of marriage equality.
“I have no idea why they assumed that would occur. They thought, first, that we would rush out and get married in the first year and, second, that we would all spend the average of somewhere around $51,000 to $55,000 on our wedding. Out of the 25 couples that I married in the first six months, maybe 2 or 3 had weddings in excess of $50,000 and the vast majority don’t buy into the rituals and the extravagances of straight weddings because we don’t feel compelled to do that. The prediction was doomed from the start because it was based on some really silly and stereotypical assumptions.”
One of the planners featured at the showcase was Terry Kenos, operations manager at Ascot House Receptions. He met Price when he was given sensitivity training with regards to same-sex couples.
“It was really good for me to think about what language we use,” he says. “It’s about having a package that’s inclusive.”
According to Kenos, some of the traditions associated with weddings are outdated, especially when it comes to same-sex couples. An example of this is the concept of the veil, which has historically been used in arranged marriages to hide the face of a bride and prevent a disgusted groom from leaving the altar before the ceremony was complete.
Imogen Telfer, who attended the showcase with her partner, says, “It’s so nice to be in the same room with people who are in a similar situation.” With regards to why same-sex marriages did not occur as quickly as expected, she says, “The process of marriage equality was so toxic that people weren’t in a rush to do it ‘just because’.”
Paul Baden, who has recently become a marriage celebrant, disagrees with the notion that the debate had an impact on the number of marriages. “It’s a poll, nothing more,” he says. “The gay community has been used to negative comments forever.”
The room was filled with different marriage celebrants and planners including a photographer and a videographer. Free food and was served along with a free glass of champagne.
Billy Ng does not plan on marrying soon but attended the event to support the community. “The community’s always hidden,” he says. However, he says that times are changing, and, “people are more open-minded”. He also expressed a desire to learn more about wedding traditions. “As an Asian, it’s interesting to know how the traditional Western way of Australian weddings is.”
Several of the event planners and guests agreed that marriage was not the final step in LGBTI equality. Angela Watson, Imogen Telfer’s partner, pointed out the need for more inclusivity in aged care homes for LGBTI seniors, many of whom still feel uncomfortable coming out.
Price says, “Lots of legislation that has always discriminated against LGBTI people still remains at the state and territory level.” He also spoke about the need to focus on the rights of transgender and intersex people.
In Victoria, transgender people must undergo gender reassignment surgery in order to have their gender identity recognised on their birth certificate. A bill to remove this restriction was passed in the Legislative Assembly in 2016 but did not pass in the Legislative Council.
Organisation Intersex International Australia has protested against intersex infants (people whose sexual characteristics do not completely fit within the categories of “male” and “female”) being given sex assignment surgery, something the organisation calls, “A pattern of human rights abuses on infants, children and adolescents with intersex traits.”
Price also argues that the rights of bisexual people should not be ignored. “As a gay white man, I know that I fit in a privileged position within the pink community and there are people in the letters B, T, I who still have much greater discrimination against them every day of their lives.”