One year on: 'What the Yes vote meant for us'

It’s been one year since nearly eight million Australians voted Yes to legalising marriage between same-sex couples.

One year since all the the controversy surrounding the postal plebiscite hit fever pitch, and same-sex couples around the country waited anxiously for the results.

On the morning of November 15, 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed that 61.6 per cent voted yes, and now 12 months on it seems strange that it was ever illegal in the first place.

But that one vote, that one word – Yes – has seen the lives of many Aussies change. And even if things haven’t changed much yet, the possibility of a future that had previously seemed unattainable is now well within their reach.

Here’s what the past 12 months have led to for everyday Australians.

Peter, 68, and Russell, 75

Russell (right) and Peter have been together since the 70s. Photo: Supplied/ Russell

“We started living together in September 1971. Homosexuality was still illegal in NSW at that time so we didn’t really have any plans to get married – something that seemed the exclusive domain of heterosexuals. Then John Howard, in 2004, with the support of the Labor party, changed the marriage act to cement marriage as the union of a man and a woman. So that was that.

“We supported the push for gay marriage, attending rallies and signing petitions, but more out of a sense that young gay people should have equal rights, rather than a burning desire to get married ourselves.

“Then came the postal survey, which we thought at first was a very divisive process. But all down our street people started flying rainbow flags, painting a gate and a wall in rainbow colours. We were stirred to action and put up a flag ourselves. As it came down to the wire we were not certain that the Yes vote would succeed and were blown away with the result. 

“People started asking us if we were going to get married. After 47 years together there didn’t seem to be a pressing need, but the more we thought about it, the more reasons we found to stand up and celebrate our union in front of family and friends. We also decided we would like to be recognised on our respective family trees as a married couple rather than a couple of barren twigs.

“So we chose a date, found a fantastic celebrant and, on the Spring equinox, tied the knot. It was a wonderful day and the whole process has been something of a second coming out for both of us.”

Kyle Arakiel-Stone, 48

Kyle and Shayne on their wedding day. Photo: Supplied/Kyle Arakiel-Stone

“During the plebiscite, my wife and I were subjected to a fair amount of abuse, so on the day of the vote count, we were very nervous. So much was riding on the people of Australia and their views about same-sex marriage.

“We were too afraid to hope for a positive outcome, but when the final tally was announced, we both cried tears of utter joy and relief. We had been planning our wedding for months and intended to go ahead, whether or not we had been granted legal rights.

“It was incredible to realise we could now take our vows with the full weight of the law behind us. Our day was incredible. Our three children were in attendance, as were about 60 of our closest friends and family and the air was full of love.

“I can now call Shayne (47) my wife, and I am hers. Life has never been so beautiful.”

Zachary Pittas, 23

Zach has finally realised that ‘having a piece of paper’ does matter. Photo: Supplied/ Zachary Pittas

“A year on I can’t say my life has done a complete 360, I come from the most accepting and loving family you can find, so in the micro sense nothing immediately changed. I think perhaps that’s because marriage was never, ever, a possibility for me and growing up as a gay man, I knew that. I knew there was no point sitting around planning my ‘special day’ because it wasn’t going to come and my brain hasn’t really moved on from that – not fully.

“To be honest it wasn’t until recently that I realised how special the events of November 15, 2017 were. I was sitting front row of a church to watch two of my dearest straight friends get married, it was the first wedding I had been to since marriage equality.

“The time came for the bride and groom to sign their marriage certificate, witnessed by their closest friends and family. As the pen hit the paper tears streamed down my face – tears of joy and happiness – it was in that moment I realised that one day there was a real possibility I would be in same position.

“Some say a marriage certificate is ‘just a piece of paper’, and I certainly thought that for quite some time, but watching two names become bound together by law allowed me to see how the validation of a couple’s commitment to each other, by law, DOES matter.

“It has made me the happiest man in the world to see the effect marriage equality has had on the wider community over the past 12 months. Seeing couples who have been together for 50+ years and never able to marry, seeing the 78ers at Mardigras so over the moon with joy to finally be seen as equals – it breaks my heart to think about how long they have waited.

“I’m lucky really, to be in my early twenties and experience marriage equality, that is something I will never take for granted and always hold dear.”

Elisa, 33

Elisa (right) and Danie are engaged and planning their wedding next year. Photo: Supplied/Elisa

“For me, personally, hearing the result of the yes vote was a sigh of relief. The recognition that two people now have the freedom to legally marry the person they love, no matter who they are or what gender, that was the biggest win for humankind.

“A friend of mine was in India visiting the Taj Mahal the day he heard the results of the vote and I remember him saying that it was a sign, that love is love. He was at one of the places in the world that displays a true testament to love and it made the result more symbolic for him.

“My partner Danie, 29, and I are currently organising our wedding next year and it’s made our happily ever after all that more special because we get to share it at home with our loved ones.”

Surrey Hodges, 28

Surrey (right) and Kaylee got engaged before the vote. Photo: Supplied/Surrey

“The decision for Australia to finally allow us to get married was fantastic but long overdue. We had actually gotten engaged before this decision was made and were going to have to go overseas to do it officially, but we weren’t too happy with it not being recognised here.

“So to have that changed before we started all the planning was amazing. It meant we could include a lot more people in our celebration than we thought. It also meant we were able to be like everybody else and commit ourselves to one another like everybody else could. It was really amazing.”

Matthew Kelly, 25

Matthew feels like he can finally be himself all the time. Photo: Supplied/Matthew Kelly

“A year on, I would say the approval of the ‘YAS’ vote has given me the confidence to be authentic with myself.

“Previously, I occasionally would filter my personality around certain people, but after seeing that support from family, friends, colleagues and the Australian community, I am now more myself than ever before… sometimes it can be too much.

“Marriage was something that I never saw in my future. But today, If Mr. Right was to come along, I have every intention to make the formal commitment (so I can divorce him a year later and take all of his money).”

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