The change in law that allowed same sex marriages in Australia was one of the main motivations for me to become a marriage celebrant. Since then I have recognised other aspects of celebrancy that should have got me here sooner, especially performing funerals, which can also be a difficult rite for LGBTIQA+ Australians. But the struggle for equality is not over until polyamorous marriage is a thing.
When the legislation passed parliament three years ago, I was there with Canberra Qwire, singing on the forecourt and celebrating the fact that most of my rainbow family could now enjoy the same privileges as heterosexual couples in terms of making lifelong commitments with the weight of a legal marriage. But despite this being a great step towards marriage equality, we are still not all equal.
There are many Australians in committed long-term polyamorous relationships, but marriage remains unavailable to them. This means that if one member of the relationship dies intestate or becomes incapacitated, the other parties to the relationship either find themselves without legal recourse to honour the relationship, or unequally matched in this regard. Neither of these states is fair, and they are certainly not equal.
And that legal inequality also minimises their recognition and support within their community. Without a marriage ceremony, a throuple (for instance) does not enjoy the benefits of societal recognition of their status outside their immediate circle of friends (if that). This reduces the strength of their support network as well as limiting the options available to them to celebrate their love.
There are a few avenues I can take, as a celebrant, to support them.
Most obviously, I can perform a commitment ceremony. This may take the form of a wedding and participants and their community are welcome to call it a wedding, it just won’t have the legal implications of a wedding.
There are also some legal possibilities that exist as a result of the journey Australia took to same sex marriage. Civil union and civil partnership and registered relationship laws have not been rescinded since the Marriage Act was changed, and these could possibly be exploited because the Marriage Act doesn’t count these as existing marriages.
In the ACT, for instance, it would be possible for a throuple to be legally joined if two were to enter a civil union first. Then a marriage can take place between one of them and the third party. It’s awkward, but plausible, and offers some legal protection as as well as some weight. It doesn’t help if there are four parties, though.
In Victoria, where there are no civil unions, a quaple (should that be quadple?) may opt to split into pairs and enter registered relationships, then one party from each registered relationship may get married.
But these are not poly marriages. All of them are open to legal challenge, and their legal status remains untested. And the ceremonies are, by legal necessity, awkward. In a way, though, a courageous polyamorous group could pioneer poly marriage here in the same way that same sex marriage was pioneered in Canada.
I remain in awe of the brave couple who simply ignored tradition, read Canadian law, and got married regardless: not because the law said they could; but because it didn’t say they couldn’t. Canada trod a very short road to same sex marriage due to their courage, while LGBTIQA+ Australians fought on for two more decades.
As part of the LGBTIQA+ community, I believe we should not stop pushing for equality until it is extended all the way to the +.