Christine Ellen Woodhams

christine-thumbI grew up in the hills outside of Perth, and would love to return one day, but right now my fiancee Ellie and I live together with Ellie’s son Daniel in Hemel Hempstead, United Kingdom. We met through mutual friends and knew right away that this was “it”. We have an amazing relationship, full of love and respect and a lot of laughter. As we both work in public-facing occupations, we frequently deal with the issue of being “out”, and have experienced prejudice and negative responses. We are active in the gay parenting scene and advocate for tolerance of all types in our workplaces. Despite the problems we can encounter, we are committed to our relationship and have never been happier.

Choosing to spend the rest of your life with someone is a huge step. Making a public statement about that commitment is traditional, and is important emotionally and socially to many people. Australians of all ethnicities and religions still choose to bind themselves together, to create a new family unit and show the world that they are in love. Sexuality makes no difference to that feeling.

When I realised that I was in love with Ellie, I couldn’t wait to propose to her, and she accepted eagerly. We both want to be married. We want to publicly and legally state that we intend to spend the rest of our lives together. We want to declare our love for one another in front of our family and friends. We want our signatures next to each others’ on a marriage certificate. We want the right to take each others’ surnames. We want to be a family in the eyes of the law as well as in the eyes of those who care about us.

We are exceptionally lucky that Ellie is a citizen of a country where this is not only legal, but so common now that no one bats an eyelid. The introduction of gay civil partnerships to the UK has not destroyed families or changed the fabric of society. It simply allows us to fulfil that desire to be a stable family unit – just like any straight couple.

When I tell both Australian and English friends that Ellie and I are engaged, they ask whether I will be coming/going home to Perth for the wedding. Many do a double-take when I remind them that marrying the love of my life is still illegal in the land of my birth. This is often followed by astonishment and disbelief, as Australia is seen as a modern and progressive country by most people, and they cannot understand how deeply conservative countries can have gay marriage when “laid back” Australia does not.

I have heard people say, when trying to justify the lack of gay marriage in Australia, that since gay couples already have the same legal protection as straight couples, it’s unnecessary to go that extra step and bring in a legally binding marriage/partnership for gay couples. But if that’s so, why do straight couples still get married? Isn’t the legal benefit protection of being a de facto couple sufficient?

Marriage has an emotional, social and cultural significance far beyond the mere legal ramifications. It is a public statement of commitment, a spiritual binding-together of two persons into one unit (whether or not there is a religious element). It generates stability and cements family units. It brings families together and creates new ones. And it has no negative impact. It cannot hurt straight marriages or damage straight families. Gay couples will continue to form lifelong loving unions with or without marriage; giving us the right to marry will change nothing for anyone except those concerned, the couples who are finally able to formalise their unions.

I would love to know that my marriage (UK Civil Partnership) to Ellie will be legally binding in Australia, and I would like to see the dozens of gay friends I have in Perth get married too. It harms no one and has great benefits for many. It’s time we recognised that.

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