Maybe you couldn't be there for the ground-breaking Sunday Civil Union ceremony of the CU poster boys, Des Smith and John Jolliff. No matter, Robyn Paterson was your eyes and ears... Late for the Civil Union of Des and John, I parked in the St James – expensive, but good when hurrying – and ran to the Wellington Council Chambers. Flying up the stairs while trying to regain control of my hair, I almost didn't notice the rainbow guard of honour until I was right underneath them. The upper stairs were lined on either side with flag bearers, greeting guests with cheers and a canopy of rainbow flags. As I was whooped through the entrance I completely forgot my rush, and instantly felt more celebratory than I ever had at any wedding – this was something I could relate to! I took up a pozzie at the top of the stairs to watch the other guests arrive (apparently I wasn't as late as I thought), joined by photographers, TV cameramen, and friends with disposable snap-shots. Everyone was instantly in the mood of the event as soon as they made their entry through the flags – though reactions varied from blushing embarrassment at the attention, to bursting into show tunes then taking a bow. And that was just the lesbians! There was no question that guests were celebrating not only the Civil Union of Des and John, but also an important milestone in queer history; that the couple had played a big role in helping to achieve. We've come to know them as the "poster boys" of the campaign for Civil Unions – their 19 year relationship a clear example that gay and lesbian couples are as capable of love and commitment as their heterosexual counterparts. Having tirelessly made submissions and given interviews in support of Civil Unions passing into law, it seemed fitting that Des and John were amongst the first couples to register their union last week. TWO HUNDRED APPLAUDING SUPPORTERS The stars of the show arrived at the ceremony in a silver Rolls Royce, and were piped into the Chambers by a man in stripy tights. (For those planning Civil Unions of the future, please note: Rolls, yes. Piping, fine. Tights, no. Tights are never ok...). The pair themselves looked dashing in matching black trousers with open-neck white shirts, and beautifully delicate silver pendants. John wore a blue cummerbund and Des a red one. They held hands and beamed as they entered past more than 200 applauding friends and family members. As celebrant, Mayor Kerry Prendergast acknowledged the work of Des and John in the community, and their trademark sense of humour. She commented that Des and John, or John and Des, “go together like bacon and eggs” or, as someone has been heard to say, “like Laurel and Hardy.” She gave a moving address, describing the couple's relationship and reiterating how much they deserved this legal recognition of their love and years together. The official part of the ceremony brought tears to more than a few eyes around the Chambers. Des and John stood face to face to exchange vows and rings, promising to "continue to love you in good times and bad, give all that I have to give, and all that I feel inside, in the only way I know how – completely, and forever". Ms Prendergast pronounced the couple officially "Civilised". THE MOMENT WE'VE WAITED FOR For me though, the most moving part of the event was the signing of the register. Des, John and their witnesses filled in the forms with a gold Parker pen, to the background sound of guests fluttering rainbow flags and filling up balloons, and I was suddenly hit with the true excitement of Civil Unions now becoming a reality. Holding ceremonies has always been a possibility, but having the right to sign legal forms - to officially register our relationships for the first time - is something we've waited far too long for, and should never underestimate. The flag bearers and the be-tighted piper led the proud 'newlyweds' and their guests out into Civic Square, where they were met by the Brass Razoo Solidarity Band and a bevy of public supporters. Flags flying and balloons tugging at their strings in the Wellington wind, the crowd formed a parade across to the waterfront where the reception was to be held. Despite rumours that Destiny Church had booked the Square, not a protestor was in sight. Passing cars tooted support and Aussie tourists commented "Wow this is so cool, we don't have anything like this in Australia!" (Full of national gay pride at the time, I decided not to mention Mardi Gras). The day had been poignant, proud, a lot of fun, and very moving. Des and John entered their reception "happy, just so, so happy!"
Credit: Robyn Paterson
First published: Wednesday, 4th May 2005 - 12:00pm
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