December 9, 2022
Today is a whole 5 years since the right to marry in Australia was no longer determined by sex or gender. On the 9th of December 2017, the Marriage Act 1961 was updated to allow for marriage equality. Which meant, the Monitum (the legal words the celebrant has to say to make you married) changed from ‘…the union between a man and a woman.’ to ‘…the union between two people.’ I still do a little silent happy jig in my heart when I say those words in all my ceremonies. Also, the way people identified their genders on the Notice of Intended Marriage was changed to their discretion and not something we had to check legally. Which now includes; female, male and non-binary.
As I write these words, I feel a sense of joy and heartbreak. Joy because the right for any human to choose who they wish to marry and being recognised legally is so very important. Heartbreak because I feel for all those people who for years and years and years fought for this very simple human right and thinking of the major mental health crisis this has created over time.
Since becoming a marriage celebrant in July 2018, I’ve married so many wonderful couples, loads of heterosexual and every colour from the LGBTQIA+ rainbow.
I’ve been waiting for the right time to share one particular story and today is that day.
I met Az and Shaz at the Summerland Farm Open Day back in 2019. I remember it well, to me they were just a guy and girl who loved one another. They wanted to be married to make their love official and show the world what their love meant to them and they wanted a fun-loving ceremony. We bantered and giggled a lot, and I knew I’d see them again!
When they did make contact a few months later, I was excited to put together a wedding package that included a stylist, flowers and photographer. Once we ironed out the details, we organised to meet up again at a café in Ballina.
We did the general small talk catch-up and then they started to share their story.
Az had his gender assigned as female at birth, born into what we as a society call a normal family with a high standard of morals and values. He had a safe house, a loving family and a good education.
But throughout his life he never really felt normal.
As he grew, like most of us, he started to question everything but particularly his gender, and we can only imagine the heartache he went through during this time. Trying to fit into ‘normal society’ is hard for anyone but particularly someone who does not identify with a gender that was assigned for them.
When Az met Shaz he hadn’t started his gender reassignment yet. He was a regular customer of Shaz’s at Crazy Clarkes. He’d noticed her because, she had a super cute friendly vibe and wore a ridiculously short skirt.
Shaz had noticed Az, he had this exuding confidence, standout punk style and cool tatts. She’d also noticed his really stretched ears, so immediately she thought he was a badass.
One day Az confidently handed over his business card and said “we should hang out some time”. In the moment, he was feeling very bold and Shaz was oblivious to the idea of dating and keen to make a new friend.
Their friendship progressed into a relationship and then on the 29th March 2014 Az proposed to Shaz on Shelly Beach at sunset.
Their relationship has led them to individual journeys of self-discovery helping them transform and grow. They’ve celebrated many milestones and achievements, both personally and together.
They had to postpone their wedding day twice due to Covid and they chose the 8th anniversary of their engagement, the 29th March 2022. This was the eve of the second major flood to hit the Northern Rivers, if the Universe was testing them, it was going to extreme lengths.
Even though they had organised a beautiful outdoor park with stunning styling, they were not postponing another time, so they booked an indoor community hall near where Shaz’s Mum and Dad live in North Ballina.
And you know what, it didn’t matter because we all worked bloody hard to make that hall into a magical wonderland of love – they were still married, they still celebrated their love with all of their favourite people and they still had so much fun!
When I contacted them both to share a little more about this story, this is what they had to say:
Why was it important for you to get married when you did?
“It wasn’t important for us to be married; it was important to have the opportunity to become married. The reason that we wanted to be married was to publicly declare our love and affection for one another, especially in the eyes of those who didn’t take our relationship seriously. Az also wanted our relationship to be legally recognisable for safety and security. There are too many stories of same-sex/transgender couples who have little to no rights when it comes to their partner being hospitalised etc.”
Can you share a little of your journey up until this point?
“Az proposed after a year of being together. We knew it would be a long engagement, Shaz was only 19 and Az 24, was pre-transition and only just beginning to properly address his gender dysphoria. Az hates the idea of a ‘civil union/partnership’ because it just felt so phony. It wasn’t properly legally recognised and to be honest he felt like it made a mockery of ‘same sex’ relationships almost by highlighting the fact that we could have ‘something’ but not the ‘real thing’. There was a long period of time where a fair few people refused to acknowledge our relationship as serious or as anything more than a ‘phase’ for Shaz.
We definitely found that, when Az did commit to medical transition, there was a big shift in acceptance and recognition of our relationship and our determination to get married and, well, live a normal life. A lot of people also thought this meant we could now get legally married and that still wasn’t the case!
When marriage equality happened, people asked us, “how does that even affect you now?”. The fact is until literally this week (in Qld), you require surgery in order to change your gender marker on your birth certificate and can’t change it altogether in other states. On that note, we were so fortunate to come across Vic who was extremely validating and accommodating!”
I remember when we filled in the Notice of Intended Marriage, which the first legal step in marriage in Australia, at the Shelly Beach Café in Ballina, this was the first time Az was able to assign himself as ‘male’ on a legal document and the 3 of us had a little cheering celebration over coffee!
Has the way the world sees you changed in the past 5 years, or is it getting any easier?
“Shaz laughs while saying this – the more heteronormative we look the easier it’s become. Which is a weird unfortunate truth, Az could go into why passing as a cis-het couple making life easier is problematic but that’s for another blog!” (I just had to Google this term, and yes that’s definitely for another blog).
“But there is so much more education and awareness and it’s still increasing dramatically. We just need to funnel that through to the older generations!
All in all, we’re just like every other couple that’s in love and wants happiness, safety, security and equality for all.”
And yes, that’s what I want for everyone too! Who cares who we love and how we identify, as long as there is love – then nothing else should matter, right? I know it’s not that simple, but it really should be.
We have come such a long way along this journey, and as an LGBTQIA+ ally, I know I’m still learning every day. One major thing, is I get words and phrases wrong all the time, but I’m open to being corrected when I do and happy to apologise when needed.
I feel our children are way better at understanding this than anybody. I remember my friend’s little girl a few months back talking to me about her friend at school and she corrected herself twice instead of calling her friend ‘her’, she corrected herself and said ‘they’. When I asked her what that meant she said it was their pronoun and how they wanted to be identified, her friend didn’t see themselves as a male or female, and she needed to respect that.
And of course, the pronoun is just the start of such a bigger thing we need to accept within our society. But if an 8-year-old who attends a catholic school understands it, then I reckon the rest of us can work it out!
Major thanks to Az and Shaz for sharing their story, they are THE best couple and I love bumping into them at many of their friend’s weddings, and around town. You’re both a pair of badass superheroes in my eyes!