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Twelve trends in same sex weddings in Melbourne

Als a gay celebrant, I’ve now conducted more than 120 LGBTIQ weddings in Melbourne. In the time since marriage equality became law on 9 December 2017, there have been some trends beginning to show up in the queer couples I’ve married. Here are twelve of those trends.

[NOTE: The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) continues to use the discriminatory term “same-sex” which is problematic in two ways:

(1)It uses ‘sex’, an old, outdated medical and legal term based on the presence or otherwise of genitalia. People and institutions that use that term rely on the presence of a clitoris or a penis to assign the ‘sex’ of female or male to a person.

It was a binary system – everyone was either F or M. Except that, in reality, not everyone was F or M. The contemporary term is gender identity – and, of course, there is now wide recognition of multiple gender identities and the fact that people may identify as intersex, gender diverse or non-binary etc.

(2) People from the LGBTIQ+ community who do not identify as ‘same-sex’ certainly married other people during the period this ABS catalogue covers. The ABS continue to use outdated and discriminatory terms to refer to these people as if they were female or male. They are neither.

Importantly, now that marriage is defined in the Marriage Act 1961 as being ‘between two people’, there is no reason for the ABS to collect data on people’s ‘sex’. And yet the ABS even has a disclaimer for those couples that didn’t identify as ‘male or female’: ‘same-sex marriage data exclude marriage registered for which one or both parties did not identify as male or female’ – that is, they simply don’t include them as they don’t fit the binary definition.]

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Same sex couples who got married were older than their straight counterparts (Figure 1)

The ABS reports that, Australia-wide, the median age of women who got married to a same sex partner in 2018 was 39.3 years compared with 30.2 years for women in straight marriages; the median age of men who got married to a same sex partner in 2018 was 44.9 years compared with 32.1 years for men in straight marriages.

In the same year, in the case of my own couples, the median age of women who got married to a same sex partner was 39.9 years compared with 37.0 years for women in straight marriages; the median age of men who got married to a same sex partner was 48.9 years compared with 41.0 years for men in straight marriages.

That is, in general, the same sex couples who got married were older than their straight counterparts. That’s hardly surprising. Same sex couples have had to wait until 9 December 2017 to be given the legal right to get married. The year 2018 was the first calendar year in which same sex couples could get married in Australia. And in that first tranche of marriages, there were lots of older couples who’d been waiting and waiting for years and decades to get married, having been living together for many years. It will be interesting to see if that trend remains or if it declines as those older couples gradually die off.

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The age gap between parties in same sex couples is higher than between parties in straight couples (Figure 2)

With regard to the couples I married, the age gap between parties in same sex couples is greater than between parties in straight couples (7.0 years compared with 6.2 years). The relevant medians were 5 years for same sex couples compared with 3 years for straight couples.

This is difficult to explain in scientific terms, as there’s been little research devoted to it. But there’s a phenomenon in gay culture of some couples being attracted despite a significant age gap. And, although there are some heteronormative-based stereotypes that have been applied to try to explain it, members of such relationships maintain that it’s genuine physical, emotional and sexual attraction rather than financial etc.

The distribution of the ages of same sex couples is markedly wider (Figure 3)

With regard to my own couples, the distribution of the ages of same sex couples is markedly more diverse (spread quite evenly across a range of ages from 20 to 70) than the ages of my straight couples whose ages are more clustered in their 20s and 30s. That’s reflected by the ABS data – there are small proportions of same sex couples in their 20s and in their 60s and above who got married – with the majority peaking in late 20s and early 30s for women, and roughly the same proportion getting married in their late 30s through to their late 50s.

86% of my same sex clients had never been married (Figure 4)

Unsurprisingly, 86% of my same sex clients had never been married – mainly because, until 2018, they were prohibited by law from being married to someone other than a person of the opposite sex.

But that means that 14% had been married – to people of the opposite sex. Lots of these people grew up in times when it was expected that, as part of growing up and reaching various milestones and rites of passage, you’d meet the ‘right one’, marry them, settle down in a three bedroom house with a white picket fence and begin to form a family. Just like the rest of society. And so about 1 in 7 of my same sex clients did just that. And, when they eventually came out, they got divorced – or perhaps that happened in the reverse order! Interestingly, none of my same sex clients had been widowed.

By comparison, just over 3 in 4 straight clients of mine had previously been married. Slightly more than 1 in 5 of my straight clients were divorced, compared with 1 in 7 of my same sex clients. Divorced straight clients were more evenly distributed in terms of their age than their peers who had never been married – there was a cluster between late 20s to 40s for people who had never been married.

Whilst the numbers of same sex clients who had been divorced were fewer than for straight couples, the age range for divorced same sex clients was from the early 40s to mid 60s. Those same sex clients who had never been married were younger, mainly distributed between the ages of mid 20s and 60 years.

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Same sex couples are more likely than straight couples to have lived together before marriage (Figure 5)

Same sex couples are more likely than straight couples to have lived together before marriage – 78% compared with 71%. For many same sex couples, this has been the case for years or decades. In times when the outside world was hostile, when harassment in public was rife, when they were denied promotion opportunities at work, when they couldn’t be out and proud while playing sport or at work or at their place of worship, same sex couples’ homes became their safe haven.

And so, when they fell in love, despite being denied the legal right to marry that every other section of society had, same sex couples closed in. They bunkered down and made their home their castle. That castle became their safe space.

Same sex couples like their weddings in the hotter months (Figure 6)

With regard to my couples, more same sex couples hold their wedding in the earlier, hotter months of the year (January to March) than straight couples – and are also far more prepared to have their wedding in the winter months. Same sex couples seem far less hung up on the perfect photos that many straight couples seem to yearn for. And so, their weddings are not so weather-dependent – the month or amount of light or time of day or shadows don’t feature as much in their wedding planning.

The take-up of my big gay wedding packages is on the rise for same sex couples while, for straight couples, the trend is towards legals-only weddings. Perhaps this is a trend related to COVID?

– Bronte Price

Most same sex couples opt for a legals-only ceremony package – the opposite of straight couples (Figure 7)

The same proportion of my straight couples opt for my Superior Wedding Experience ceremony as the proportion of my same sex couples who opt for my Short and Sweet (legals-only) ceremonies – ie they are the inverse of each other.

Whilst we would expect most straight couples to continue to do what straight couples have traditionally done – ie have a big wedding and a big ‘reception’, many same sex couples spent their money on a big commitment ceremony when they were legally prohibited from getting married, and so now all they want is to make their union legal, followed by a small celebration with a handful of close friends.

However, there is a reverse trend happening! The take-up of my big gay wedding packages is on the rise for same sex couples while, for straight couples, the trend is towards legals-only weddings. Perhaps this is a trend related to COVID? Or perhaps same sex couples are beginning to want something more than a legals-only wedding, now that the hoo haa of marriage equality has calmed down.

Same sex couples are coming from foreign countries to get married (Figure 8)

A higher proportion of same sex couples than straight couples from overseas are increasingly coming to Australia to get married, often combining their trip with a holiday down-under. Whilst the vast majority of my straight couples were from within Australia (5 couples came from 4 foreign countries), the majority of same sex couples I married also came from Australia but 23 couples came from 11 foreign countries to get married by me. Many of these couples are deeply closeted. You can read about why they choose to get married, here: https://gaycelebrant.melbourne/lgbt-closeted-couple-marriage/

There is greater diversity in the country of birth for same sex couples than for straight couples (Figure 9)

By far the majority of my straight couples were born in Australia, with some coming from England, India and New Zealand. That trend is different for my same sex couples: whilst the majority are born in Australia, there is greater diversity in the remainder than for my straight couples – reasonably large numbers of my same sex couples were born in the Philippines, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and the UK.

Smaller numbers of same sex couples came from countries where homosexuality is a criminal offence, and several came from countries where to be homosexual is punishable by death. That goes to the importance of the institution of marriage in people’s lives and the significance of being able to be married, at least in their minds, when they return to their homeland. It gives them hope, as Harvey Milk said on more than one occasion.

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The wedding term most commonly used by same sex couples is ‘partner’ (Figure 10)

The wedding term most commonly used by same sex couples (almost 50%) is ‘partner’, with approximately ¼ choosing to use ‘bride’ and ¼ choosing to use ‘groom’. Some female parties I’ve married have chosen the marriage term ‘groom’ whilst some male parties I’ve married have chosen the marriage term ‘bride’.

This is very different from straight couples – all of whom used ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ exclusively. No straight couples I’ve married have chosen to use the marriage term ‘partner’.

Many same sex couples view the marriage terms ‘bride’ and ‘groom’ as heteronormative and irrelevant to them. They don’t relate to those terms. And they dislike the terms ‘partner’ and ‘spouse’. Now that the Marriage Act 1961 has been amended to define ‘marriage’ as being ‘between two people’, it seems anachronistic to continue to require that parties to a marriage choose one of these marriage terms so deeply rooted in the heteronormative past or the institution of marriage. And yet the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Australian Attorney General’s Department continues to require them to choose one of these terms to be entered on the Notice of Intended Marriage.

Most same sex couples are drawn to non-traditional wedding venues (Figure 11)

Traditionally, venues dedicated to weddings have driven much of the straight wedding market. Such venues were booked out months and years ahead and, indeed, were usually the first thing to be ticked off on a bride’s checklist. Traditional wedding venues represented a viable civil marriage alternative location to a church which required a religious marriage ceremony.

Of my straight couples, just over 70% got married in a traditional wedding venue, with fewer than 1 in 10 opting for an alternative venue. One in five opted to get married at home.

For same sex couples, the statistics are very different: most are not drawn to traditional wedding venues – only about 1 in 3 of my same sex couples chose to get married there. More than twice as many same sex couples as straight couples opted for alternative venues – art galleries, pubs, bars, restaurants, beaches, parks, public gardens and so on.

And almost half my same sex couples got married at home. It underlines the importance of same sex couples’ homes as being safe and comfortable, where they can invite their close friends and have an intimate wedding ceremony followed by some lovely food and beverages, privately. Same sex couples seem to be shunning the traditional wedding followed by a ‘reception’ with the same expensive package offered by the venues that has been offered to straight couples – ie essentially a straight wedding.

An overwhelming proportion of same sex couples get married by civil marriage celebrants (Figure 12)

In Australia, in 2018, 98.9% of marriages of ‘same-sex’ couples were carried out by civil marriage celebrants. There are good reasons why ‘same-sex’ couples would shun having a religious marriage ceremony: religious institutions have wreaked so much harm on the queer community in previous centuries and decades and have so strongly opposed queer couples seeking to get married that it’s difficult to see why any but the most religious queer people would opt for a religious marriage ceremony.

Registered marriage celebrants have happily filled the void created by the churches’ own homophobia and transphobia, to give queer couples the non-religious marriage ceremony they desired and deserved.

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