One of the trends that has emerged since marriage equality became a reality in Australia is the spike in numbers of LGBTIQ+ couples who are deeply closeted and yet want to get married.
Let me explain what I mean by “closeted”. It means that the couple are not “out and proud”. That is, they haven’t proclaimed their sexuality to some or all of their family and friends etc.
Find out more on How To Get Married in Australia – For LGBT Couples
And they may never do so. They may be out only to each other. Some couples may be out to their family and close friends but not out at work. Others may be out with family, friends and work but not to their church or sporting group.
And yet, they still take the step of getting legally married in Australia.
Because of the power of the institution of marriage
Marriage is a very powerful institution in societies across the globe. In fact, it’s one of the foundations of many societies. It provides the basis of family formation, is embedded strongly into our legal systems, our financial systems and our social traditions. And so, it’s the institution that people equate with settling down at a certain age, getting ready to have children, finding “the one” with whom you want to share the rest of your life. Marriage is a very strong pull for many people, including LGBTIQ+ people. It also presents a very strong pressure to “fit in” and not be different.
Because of tradition – it’s all they know
LGBTIQ+ couples have no other role model in society that shows them the way forward in terms of formally coupling. Despite the negative things that accompany marriage, such as domestic violence, record-high divorce rates, cheating and so on, marriage is what their parents did, it’s what they see their friends and relatives doing, and so there’s a very strong societal pressure for them to do the same. Even though marriage may not be legal for LGBTIQ+ couples in their country, it’s the one thing they’ve seen as representing what’s done and what’s accepted, traditionally.
Security of being legally married couple in old age
Particularly for older LGBTIQ+ couples, there are strong legal reasons for getting married. As we get older, we become more aware of our own mortality. And even though we may’ve been together as a couple of many years and may’ve considered ourselves “married” for decades, it’s the opportunity to exert our legal rights to ensure both parties of an LGBTIQ+ couple are looked after in old age and in sickness, that is the driver for them getting married.
We have all heard of appalling treatment of unmarried LGBTIQ+ couples from health providers, aged care providers and so on – and so for some the thought of having a legal piece of paper the confirms they’re a married couple is a strong factor in them wanting to get married.
Closeted couples confirm their love and commitment to each other, even though privately
For some, marriage is an important way of letting the other know that they love them, are committed to them, no matter what, and want to spend the rest of their lives with them. Such couples sometimes are wary and apprehensive of even saying their legal vows in front of a stranger – an authorised celebrant – let alone two witnesses whom they may or may not know.
For them, what they say to each other in the process of getting married is deeply private and highly personal. But they’re determined to say it, to ensure each of them formally knows and understands the level of their commitment.
It means that the couple are not “out and proud”.
It’s their political statement – saying they’re as equal as anyone else
Many LGBTIQ+ couples view marriage as an ultimate way of exerting a legal right they’ve been denied for much of their lives. Lots of them have had to withstand humiliation, ignorance and discrimination all of their lives, and had to endure the rest of the Australian population voting on whether they should have the legal right to marry the person they love.
And so, it’s hardly surprising that many continue to want to acknowledge the struggle for equal human rights and for that to be an underlying reason for getting married – to stick the middle finger up to those institutions and individuals that, over the ages, have denied them the right to marry.
As wedding suppliers, when we’re approached closeted LGBTIQ+ couples to help them get married, we need to respect that they may not be out and proud. I always get concerned when wedding suppliers are approached by such LGBTIQ+ couples and instantly start to impose their own needs on them – eg “Let me arrange for a photographer to take some lovely photos of your wedding” or “I know a cake maker who would make you a beautiful rainbow cake” and so on.
They assume these couples want what they take for granted with straight couples. My experience with lots of closeted couples has taught me that they fear that sort of reaction – and it can even drive them further back into the closet and make them close that closet door for even longer. They need to feel safe, not fearful.