Sweet, loving, enlightened New Zealand. Having passed the Marriage Amendment Act in 2013, our approach to same-sex marriage is now heralded as one of the most progressive in the world. It also means we play host to a steady stream of couples whose own countries of residence won't recognise the validity of their relationships.
Statistics New Zealand told VICE there have been 2655 same-sex marriages in the country since the legislation's inception—40 percent of those were between couples coming from overseas, and most of them were coming from Australia. So while same-sex marriage is still not recognised in law in Australia, the New Zealand wedding industry is reaping the benefits.
Banking professional Lindsay Barling and his partner Bruce spent $15,400 on their wedding in Auckland. The Brisbane couple decided to cross the ditch because it was easy and cheap.
Knowing marriage isn't an option in Australia, and that their New Zealand marriage isn't even recognised legally in their home-country, is "definitely bitter on the palate," Lindsay says.
"We married for love, to celebrate our love with friends and family, and to have our love and commitment acknowledged. For now we have to settle for two out of three."
Marriage wasn't always the end goal for the couple, Lindsay says. In fact they had been together for over 15 years before Lindsay dropped to one knee, and "entrapped [Bruce] in our cabin on a cruise ship in Sydney Harbour". But in 2012 they adopted Serina, a rescue kitten and everything changed, he says.
"The beautiful Burmese Birman bundle of fluff totally changed our lives. Gradually we stopped being a couple and instead became a family. Rather the couple chose to get married to express their commitment to each other.
"We have jokingly stated that we married simply to legitimise Serina but in truth it is because we both reached that stage that we knew we wanted to spend the rest of our lives doing everything we could to make the other person happier and know that they are loved."
"It is rather nice to tick the "married" box when filling out forms though."
Lindsay says the changing of the Marriage Act in 2004—which altered the definition of marriage to include a union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others—by the conservative government in power at the time was a disgraceful, bigoted attack on same-sex relationships and should be overturned. In fact, two-thirds of the Australian population support same-sex marriage, yet no government has managed to push it through.
Lindsay says the current legal position is senseless, politicians have been selfish, conceited, and generally stupid. Same sex couples have higher disposable incomes and fewer if any dependents, he says, so it makes little sense that the Australian Government is forcing that money overseas.
Tasmanian Tallula Davis and her partner Emma are of the same opinion. They got engaged, then married five days later. New Zealand seemed like the most convenient option for a quick wedding.
The couple definitely would have married in Australia if they could, says Tallula, and there's "always a bit of regret that we didn't get to celebrate with our closest friends and family".
"Marriage inequality is something that really affects people, both personally and practically—and even for a couple who are 'married.'"
That's the issue for a lot of couples, Tallula says, where if they do decide to cross the ditch, their marriage isn't recognised in their home country.
Laura Giddey is the celebrant that married Lindsay and Bruce in Auckland, and she's a member of the Glitter Squad—a group of celebrants from around New Zealand that started as a networking group. She says once they got chatting, they noticed a gap in the industry for a directory of celebrants who were pro-love in all its forms.
"Our ethos is that love is love. We firmly believe that marriage is between two consenting adults, and any other factor is not important."
Laura says the group is proud to be from a country that recognises and respects individual rights to marry. "We think that every other country needs to hurry up and follow suit."
A few of their celebrants have been contacted by same-sex couples who've felt the need to check several times whether they're comfortable officiating their wedding.
"It saddens us that their past experience with other vendors has lead them to be cautious. Especially because we would never ask or assume their gender, because we don't care!"
What's more, they've been contacted by heterosexual couples from overseas who've come to New Zealand because they're ethically opposed to their countries' opposition to same-sex marriage.
"Being an ally to the LGBTQI community is more than marrying gay couples—it shows to all couples that we are accepting and non-judgemental of all people."
Zac Fargher is a gay lawyer who also marries couples on the weekends. He became a celebrant to marry two friends but it soon turned into a meaningful hobby. He says being gay and a celebrant is important.
"I think it's important to have a celebrant that reflects our population, and the diversity that's in New Zealand."
He believes marriage has adapted to mean a lot of different things to a lot of people. But the fundamental nature of making a love commitment has remained the same, he says, whether that's manifested in a traditional or non-traditional way. Zac says the situation is of course bittersweet as it's sad that these people can't find solace in their home countries, but ultimately if there's a place where you can get married, and family can afford to get there, that matters.
"I think it's really important to have the choice that's formally prescribed in law. It's important that couples aren't discriminated against on the basis of sex. I think it's important that your country recognises the validity of your relationship."
It's not just a human rights issue, it's an economic one, he says. "We're talking about a huge industry. Anything with the label 'wedding' on it, comes with inflated prices. Weddings, especially since the legislative changes, have brought a lot of people into the country and that has brought a lot of fiscal opportunity."
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