Australia’s shameful SSM history
ALMOST four years ago, Luke Steward and Victor Brincat stood before friends and family and married the loves of their lives.
It was, Mr Brincat said, the best wedding ever. Thrown together in a month, drawing on the vital ingredients for a wedding celebration: Love. Commitment. Two people choosing each other. Friends. Family. Food. Wine.
It was December 8, 2013, in Canberra, and the long-time same-sex couple were taking advantage of a bold ACT law which had come into effect just one month before.
The ACT had done what the Federal Government wouldn't and taken its own steps to legalise same-sex marriage.
Mr Brincat, 39 and Mr Stewart, 37, had been engaged since 2008 when Mr Stewart popped the question in Paris, and travelled from Melbourne to make their long-held dream come true.
It lasted just four days.
On December 12, 2013, Australia's highest court struck down the landmark ACT law which had begun allowing the country's first gay marriages.
The freshly-minted marriage certificates were voided. More than two dozen marriages which had occurred in the narrow, five-day window, were annulled.
The Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act 2013 had been passed in the ACT Legislative Assembly on October 22, 2013, and came into effect on November 7, although wedding ceremonies under the provisions of the Act did not occur until December 7, 2013.
When the law took effect, the then Tony Abbott Federal Government challenged the Act's legal and constitutional validity, lodging the ultimately successful High Court challenge.
The High Court unanimously struck the act down in its entirety, on the basis that it was in conflict with the Federal Marriage Act.
All Mr Brincat and Mr Stewart knew was it took just five days for their dream - and the dreams of 30 other couples like them - to be shattered.
A MONTH TO WED
THE pair were alerted to the prospect they could tire the knot in Australia by a workmate.
"We'd been together a long time, and had talked about marrying overseas in Spain or New York, where it was legal," Mr Brincat said.
"Then this came up, and we had a month basically to put a wedding together.
"We got papers signed by a justice of the peace and we did it
"And it was the best wedding ever."
The logistics of making it happen were impressive. The venue was sight unseen. They hadn't met their celebrant face-to-face.
When they did the first of the paperwork, the prospect the law may not last was not uppermost in their minds. They went in "with all guns blazing", Mr Stewart said.
But by the day of the wedding, the High Court date had been set, and the threat was ever-present.
"We always knew there was a chance it would be overturned and the law wouldn't last because of the government at the time didn't agree with it," Mr Brincat said.
"We had a Prime Minister at [the] time who did not represent all of the people and we knew he was going to put up a fight."
Celebrant Stephen Lee, who presided over the nuptials, said it was one of the "most memorable weddings I've ever done". He remembered raucous cheers from guests as he introduced himself as an "equality marriage celebrant".
"There is always love and joy at any wedding, but this was off the scale because the law had changed," Mr Lee said. "And then days later, it was struck down."
It was the total erasure of the marriage which hurt most, the couple said.
"They voided it. And it was simply awful," Mr Stewart said.
"We knew that perhaps it would not count. But we didn't realise it would be just voided. Undone."
The hurt remains, Mr Brincat said. "The annulment. The absolute ending. The voiding was what really hurt because someone in their infinite wisdom decided their opinion matters more than anyone else's and basically just destroyed our hopes."
Four years on, with the prospect same sex marriage will finally become legal sometime next year, Mr Brincat and Mr Stewart will remarry, but it won't be with the grand ceremony of their short-lived 2013 union.
"However long it lasted, we are already married, we've had already done it. We don't want to do it again," Mr Stewart said.
"If the law passes, as soon as it's legal we will redo the paperwork and the official legal stuff for protection.
"Anything else we did would destroy that day that was so significant to us."
They may even wait until December 8, 2018, to do it. It would mean one less anniversary.
Marriage has been a long wait, but it is the debate, they say, not their commitment, which has been poisoned.
"I wish the debate had been about what the issue really is: the right of two people to get married regardless of gender. That's it," Mr Stewart said.
"It was summed up perfectly by (Catholic priest) Frank Brennan: sacramental marriage belongs to the church but civil marriage belongs to the people. That's what we want."
For Mr Bincat, it's simply about equality, and legal protection.
"I had no desire to get married in a church ever. What I do want is to know that if something happens to me that our property, and our safety net and our decisions are all covered and are beyond dispute," he said.
"There are issues like medical, wills, power of attorney, all of that stuff we have had to jump through hoops with, when with just one marriage certificate it all would have counted."
The wait hasn't been all-consuming. They have "got on with the business of living" which comes with being together for 17 years: work, the mortgage, renovations.
"What happened in 2013 couldn't drive us - we had to get on with life," said Mr Brincat.
They remain wary that the vote will even be a Yes.
"Everyone keeps talking about how the Yes vote is ahead - but put it this way, Trump was laughing stock who got elected," said Mr Stewart.
"Once the numbers come out we can make a decision.
"For now, I just hope. We both hope."