When my daughter was a newborn we got sent all sorts of gifts, many of them clothing.
There was this one dress sent as a hand-me-down from a second cousin across the other side of the world that neither my partner nor myself had ever met. It was a pretty dress, inside the package was a card which mentioned it was her daughter’s favourite when she was little. I looked at the dress, size 2, and thought how pretty it was and that we’d save it for a special occasion.
I thought to myself how pretty it would be as a flower girl’s dress. It wasn’t expensive, or extravagant, but we’re not the sort of people that would have an expensive or extravagant wedding. A garden wedding would be just fine, with inexpensive outfits we felt good in, and a small crowd of people close to us.
Understated – but special to us.
Two years have passed and my daughter has outgrown six clothing sizes since we received that dress. When we got it I really thought there was a good chance we could get married in time for her to wear it.
I often thought of the dress as the months passed, and it began to look less and less likely that she would ever wear it to our wedding. I thought I should put her in it anyway, just the once. But when I saw it in the cupboard this week I realised she would have outgrown it a year ago.
She never got to wear that dress.
Kids have clothes they outgrow before they ever get a chance to wear them all the time, but none of the other clothes ever bothered me like this dress.
While I was waiting for the 15th year in a row to be able to just get married, my kid outgrew her flower girl dress.
It got me thinking about all the waiting, and all the times I’ve felt so close to being able to have that simple right and then felt it slip away again.
I have waited through six different prime ministers (five if you take into consideration that one of them was the same dude twice) to get married.
I have waited through 15 years of ‘debate’ over if people like me are really classed as ‘people’ at all, and if our relationships count.
I have waited eight years since the government decided that we were equal enough to tax the same as everyone else, but not equal enough to let us have wedding cake.
I have waited through four wedding ceremonies where my partner and I awkwardly try to sink into a hole in the ground as the celebrant says the words, ‘Marriage under Australian law is the union of one man and one woman, to the exclusion of all others.’ I have sat through awkward glances in our direction from uncomfortable people around us, or the bride and groom who silently try to convey with apologetic facial expressions that they’re sorry. That they had to have the celebrant say that because it is the law.
We know already, we know all about that, and that it’s not your fault. We know it isn’t a legally binding marriage unless those words are said, how John Howard introduced that wording into the Marriage Act in 2004 when I was 16 because he was afraid that people like me would fall in love and want to get married one day and that terrified him. We know. Please just get back to your wedding vowels.
I have waited through two pregnancies. I have gone from picturing our wedding without children, to me waddling pregnant down the aisle at the last minute if things finally became legal in time. To our daughter as a baby being there, to her as a flower girl, to my vision now: her walking down the aisle beside her sister.
I have waited while signing hundreds of petitions that never seemed to go anywhere.
I have waited since 2015, when a man who had been with his fiancé for five years was denied rights to be recognised as his next of kin, in a hospital five minutes from my home.
I have waited at rallies and marches in the rain. I have spoken at them. I have begun to feel tired and defeated and now I stay home.
I have waited while 22 other countries beat Australia to the punch, thinking each time we can’t be that far away.
When I hear about gay people who have passed away, I often wonder what they waited through. If they thought, like I have for years, that it must be just around the corner and that one day their waiting would be over. If they’d picked their wedding song out, or if they knew which venue they wanted to have their wedding in. If what they planned to wear still fits them now, or has gone out of fashion. How many more grey hairs and wrinkles they have now, or how they have to keep adjusting the image in their mind of how their wedding will look as the years pass. How many children they pictured as flower girls and ring bearers who are now far too old for that? How many loved ones who can no longer attend because they passed away.
LISTEN: Penny Wong talks about marriage equality on I Don't Know How She Does It (post continues after audio...)
Sometimes when I look through photographs I see a look that I am giving my partner. A special look that says I adore you, that you’re the funniest/coolest/most awesome person I could ever hope to meet and I love you.
I see it reflected back at me from her often. I saw it in the pictures I took today while in the waiting room of the Women’s Imaging service about to have an ultrasound to see our second child. I saw it in the picture she took of me sitting at the picnic bench after she told a silly joke and made me laugh. I saw it when she looked at our daughter doing something incredible and then up at me for just a moment like we were her whole world.
I see that look and I feel happy and privileged in ways I can’t begin to describe that I have someone that looks at me like that.
Then I feel sad, frustrated and impatient that there is just so much waiting.