Today is an anniversary: Five years ago today, Nigel and I were joined in a civil union. Since then we’ve been married, but that doesn’t change the importance of the anniversary.
When we got our civil union, no one—least of all us—thought New Zealand would enact the freedom to marry so quickly. And, in 2009, a civil union was the only way to have our relationship recognised by the State. Put the two together, and a civil union was the logical thing to do.
For me, personally, it was always inferior to marriage—something the government allowed same-gender couples to have while also restricting the choice for either marriage or civil unions to opposite-gender couples only. I felt like an unwelcome guest at a party, one who’s accommodated, but not really part of things. I was an outsider. Still.
Even so, civil unions at least allowed a way for couples like us to be formally recognised, which was important to us, not the least because of the legal implications. Some people said civil unions were better than nothing and that’s true as far as it went—at that time.
I’ll let you in on a secret: I rolled my eyes at the words of then-Prime Minister Helen Clark and some of her Labour caucus. Helen said that if civil unions had been around earlier, she and her husband may have chosen that instead of marriage. I never for one minute believed her. Nor did I accept the words of Labour MPs who gushed about how great civil unions were; I felt they should have gone for marriage. While I was an ardent supporter of Helen Clark, I did not forgive that cowardice on the part of her and her government, and I don’t know that I ever will. There: I said it.
Politicians’ cowardice aside, civil unions nevertheless WERE important in their day. But they were never even remotely enough. I’ve talked about why that’s so far too many times by now, so I won’t do so again.
I joked to Nigel today that we had our wedding in 2009, but it took five years to be married. In reality, it was a little over four years nine months from our civil union to our marriage, but poetic license and all that. Interestingly, of the 166 male-male marriages from August 19 to December 19, 2013, 47 were change of relationship from civil union—that includes us, of course.
Here we are on the other side, with all New Zealanders having the freedom to marry. It feels really good to be the same as all other New Zealanders. And yet I’m aware of how many people in the world don’t have what we have, and especially of those whose very lives are in danger. We have a long way to go.
Five years ago today, I got to pledge my love to the man who gives meaning to my life. Our marriage added another layer to that, but the commitment existed long before the government ever chose to recognise that simple reality.
Five years ago today, we publicly made our commitment to each other. Law changes in New Zealand are irrelevant to the commitment that was already there, something that’s also true where the freedom to marry does not exist. Someday, I hope, it will exist everywhere.