Every year on their anniversary, Des and Rex go to the restaurant where they had their first date.
Like many committed partners, they want to get married. They’ve already written their vows.
But unlike most couples, Des and Rex will have to keep waiting. Same-sex marriage isn’t legal in Australia and that’s not likely to change anytime soon, as the government reached a deadlock this week over how to move forward.
They can’t wait much longer though – Des is dying.
In 2012 he was diagnosed with a cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle, and has been living day-to-day since then.
“My reason for living is Rex. I’ve got a wonderful GP, two cardiologists … and they are keeping me alive but I live for Rex. And I’m very proud of that,” he told CNN. They didn’t want to give their full names.
Des and Rex aren’t likely to get a chance to give their vows because on 11 October, the opposition Australian Labor Party rejected a proposed national referendum on same-sex marriage, meaning gay unions may not be legal in the country for at least three years.
Though it backs same-sex marriage, the Labor Party says a public vote is unnecessary, too costly and traumatizing for young LGBT Australians. Instead, they want same-sex marriage legalized directly by Parliament immediately.
But the conservative Australian government refuses to budge from their preferred method of the plebiscite.
The political quagmire leaves Australia’s gay and lesbian community and supporters of same-sex marriage in limbo.
Here are some of their stories.
Des and Rex: ‘We’re both pretty ordinary human beings’
Des met Rex in 2005 after posting an ad on a personal site, saying he was looking for a “quality guy for long term partnership.” They now live together in Melbourne.
“Our relationship is actually equal to everyone else’s out there. It’s not better, or worse, it’s actually equal,” he said.
Since Des was diagnosed with a cardiomyopathy in 2012, he’s gone through good periods and bad, but at the end of the day he doesn’t know how much longer he has to live.
Des says Rex calls him twice a day from work to see how he is.
“I am deteriorating … it could be a year, it could be less, it could be more than that I don’t know. Maybe it will be two or three years.”
While Des and Rex said they don’t support the plebiscite, they could have almost accepted it if it would mean they could get married sooner.
“It would be terribly, terribly disappointing and terribly, terribly unfair (if we missed out),” he said. “We’re both taxpayers, we’re both pretty ordinary human beings who happen to be gay … we just think it’s very unfair.”
Shea and Mandy: My Mum wants to marry us
Queensland couple Shea Tucker and Mandy Colgan are engaged and could be married tomorrow if same-sex marriage was legalized in Australia – they even have someone to officiate.
“My mum is a marriage celebrant … she married both my sisters as well as me in my first (marriage),” Shea says.
“She’s near retirement age but she keeps renewing her marriage license because she just wants to marry us. She’s holding on.”
Both Shea and Mandy will be glad to see the same-sex marriage national plebiscite knocked down, worried an Australia-wide campaign could severely affect young gay and lesbian people.
But the couple, who are trying for a baby, say they don’t want to wait years before they can get married.
“It’s one of the biggest proclamations of love you can give to each other and to be denied access to that because we’re a gay couple is just incredibly hurtful,” Shea says.
Andrew and Anthony: Australia not always a leader in social reform
Andrew Barr leads one of Australia’s eight state governments as the Australian Capital Territory’s Chief Minister. To this day, he is the only openly gay state or territory leader in Australia’s history.
He’s already had a civil union with his partner Anthony, who he’s been with for 17 years, and he isn’t rushing to have another huge wedding.
But he thinks other Australians deserve the chance. “It is about families, it’s about what sort of community we are and I would have thought, in the end, those who support marriage as a concept would want more people to get married,” he told CNN.
“Personally, Anthony and I will take up that opportunity but we feel we have already had that big family ceremony … but marriage is an important symbol and it’s an important thing that should be extended to all Australians.”
Barr said he was hopeful of passing gay marriage in Australia’s parliament before the next election, despite the plebiscite’s failure, as almost 60% of the country supports the change.
“Australia hasn’t necessarily always been a leader in social reform … our political system has a range of checks and balances that make social progress difficult,” he said.
“But I’m convinced it’s only a matter of time … it is disappointing that it has taken this long but we’ll continue to fight for it.”
Rebecca and Adam: “A shock and an outrage”
When Rebecca Stones and Adam Duffy pledged, about four years ago, to not marry until their gay friends could, they never thought they would be waiting so long.
“Some (family members) are not happy because we have a baby and they’ve been wanting us to get married for quite a while,” Rebecca says, speaking from Canberra, Australia.
“My son’s great grandmother has had an outfit for our wedding for so many years and it’s really sad. She’ll be 90 this year and that makes me want to cry.”
Adam says back in 2011 they had thought it would only be a year or so until gay marriage was legal in Australia. “It’s a shock and an outrage that it’s taken so long but we’ve made a decision and we’ll stand by the LGBTI community and keep our promise,” he said.
Rebecca says she partially blames Australia’s politicians for the delay. “When New Zealand got (gay marriage) I think a lot of Australians thought, ‘Come on, New Zealand ahead of us? Come on Australia!”
Darren and Lachlan Sturt: “It’s a basic right”
When Melbourne teenager Lachlan Sturt came out to his parents just over three years ago, they accepted him unconditionally. But his father, Darren, says he believes a national vote could have hurt other young gay and lesbian Australians.
“My biggest concern is that there are young people out there that might judged and may not come out and may feel that they are different, when in fact they are being themselves… it’s that adolescent I really worry about,” he says.
Lachlan won’t be sad to see the back of the plebiscite, saying it is an ‘unnecessary evil’.
“You get bullying from your peers and school, you get bullying from even some of the teachers… (if you give) conservative groups a platform that brings it into the home and puts it on the television, you’re going to have closeted teenagers… told they’re less equal than other people,” he says.
His father can’t believe how long it has taken for gay marriage to be legalized in Australia. “Everyone agrees that it’s a basic right… we’ve got a democracy that could change it now. Why should we wait?”