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Tips: Working with Same Sex Couples

Dear All,

As professional celebrants who will be marrying same-sex couples from now on, hopefully we understand that these ceremonies should be approached with the same level of respect and care, and using the same processes, as we apply for any other marriage we have officiated at. My first same-sex marriage was conducted on Tuesday 9th of January – the first possible day. It was between two extraordinary, loving and committed women who had been together for many years and who had two children and a wonderful life together. They were so ready to be married and the emotion in that intimate ceremony, and the relief that it was finally happening, was something I’ll never forget. 

However, as I am learning, there are a few subtle differences that we may need to adjust to when taking on LGTBIQ wedding ceremonies.  

So here is my list of a few early observations regarding some differences celebrants may experience in marrying same-sex (or non-heterosexual) couples from me, a celebrant who happens to be in a same-sex relationship.

-Regardless of the gender of your clients, we now need to take note as to who is designated Party 1 and Party 2 and keep that designation consistent throughout the process, ie. make sure each person in the couple consistently uses the same side of the page on all the documents. I have decided that the older party will use the left-hand column when filling out the documents, just to keep it clear in my mind. Or, if the NOIM has already been filled out, just remember who is which party.  

-You will also have to make a note as to the ‘Description of Party’ that the parties choose to give themselves (“Groom”, “Bride” or “Partner”), and make sure this stays consistent throughout the process. Interestingly, the field where the Party selects their sex on the NOIM (“Male”, “Female” or “X”) is not repeated on the marriage certificates, although it is on the BDM online form . 

-Important! Remember to ask every LGTBIQ person you are marrying whether they have been married before. It is easy to assume people in same-sex couples have never had an opportunity to tie the knot, but this is simply not the case. My partner is herself a divorced person. Ask the question.

-The same applies to questions about children. Do not assume that there were not children to a previous marriage of someone who is now in a same-sex relationship. Also, the issue of children born ‘out of marriage’ and not making it onto the NOIM is going to come up a lot more now, as the many same-sex couples who had children without being married (because, apart from anything else, they were not permitted to marry) are likely to ask why their children will not be listed on the notice. I would be interested in hearing anyone’s thoughts or opinions on this ongoing iss

-One of the questions in your ceremony planning meeting that you will now have to ask is, “What wording should I use in the declaration?” Some options: I declare you, ‘Partners for Life!’, ‘Wife and Wife!’, ‘Husband and Husband!’, or just ‘Married!’ or a cute one I heard recently, “I now declare you Gay Married!” You must ask your couple how they want this to be worded.

-Be aware when you are getting to know people, that for LGTBIQ couples it is possible that there are issues around family rejection or other forms of abuse or discrimination that may be part of that couple’s story. This must be handled with sensitivity but a question like, “Have you overcome any obstacles as a couple?” or “Do feel supported by your family or community?” may be really helpful in revealing important information about the couple’s journey together. At the ceremony I conducted on Tuesday, one of the bride’s mothers had only just accepted the relationship after many years, so the mother’s presence at the ceremony was a big deal that needed to be (subtly) acknowledged. Stories like this are very common with LGTBIQ couples.

-You may now be asked to use pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’ or ‘they’ that do not match your ‘reading’ of the gender of that person. You may even be asked to refer to them with an entirely new kind of pronoun that you’ve never even heard of! Be respectful. Listen carefully. Call people what they ask you to call them. 

-Of course, just be really ready for the “two people” change in the Monitum. We have all spent years saying that “marriage according to law in Australia is the union of a man a woman” by rote, so don’t let yourself be caught off guard! Highlight those two critical little words.

And a funny difference I discovered at my first lesbian wedding:

-When two brides turn and face one another, there may well be two bouquets that need to be held so the couple can take hands, not just one. Make arrangements for this. The world has gone mad!

Perhaps some more observations will appear over the next months as we’ll start to get more experience with same-sex clients and their ceremonies. I’d love to hear any additions to this list.