Govind and Adrian’s wedding video on YouTube put up less than a year ago has been viewed over 4500 times. Their almost magical marriage against the backdrop of the scenic Fairfeld Amphitheatre by the Yarra River had 180 guests. Putting in a lot of heart and soul into the planning, the wedding had a magical flourish infusing both Indian and Western traditions – Govind is South Indian Hindu and Adrian a Catholic of mixed Australian, Dutch and UK heritage.
But it is not the difference of cultures that made their wedding different or unique. In a country where gay marriages are slowly emerging from mainstream refrain and the push for legal recognition of same-sex marriage in Australia gaining momentum, Govind and Adrian chose to do to it their way in their home turf. “We decomposed what a ‘legal marriage’ actually means, and to us we realised that it really just means that paper work is signed that makes it easier for you to look after one another into the future,” says Govind. So the two signed wills in favour of one another, a statutory declaration, signed powers of attorney in favour of one another to make medical decisions in case of incapacity of either old age.
The wedding of Govind and Adrian, held last March, was a culmination of a six-year period of friendship after meeting on a dating website. Discovering they had so much in common it didn’t take them long to fall in love. “Funnily, discovering that Adrian could make a fantastic Lasagna, and I a good Kerala prawn curry meant we both had a path to each other’s hearts through food,” says Govind.
When they both approached their respective families about their plans to tie the knot, it was obviously met with “surprise, questioning, at times resistance and requests to hide our relationship from broader and extended family and act as friends”. Post marriage, the two are overwhelmed by the impact that their marriage has had on a lot of people like ‘them’ whom they have never met.
In a candid interview with Indira Laisram, Govind and Adrian talk about acceptance, their lives and their views on the burning debate of same-sex marriage in Australia.
How did the love blossom?
We found in each other a common love for travel, art (music and dance), family, cooking and community. It didn’t take us long at all to realise that we both seemed to gain a similar kind of excitement from these little things, about the world around us. We also found each other’s diverse backgrounds giving us sufficient difference and interests to challenge each other’s thinking and show each other new perspectives which we greatly value. Spending a great deal of time together over the first six months – sharing stories, friends and experiences – we began to realise that we had fallen in love.
When you first broke the news to your respective families, what were their reactions?
On both sides we were, of course, met with some surprise, questioning, at times resistance, and requests to hide our relationship from broader and extended family and act as friends. We watched and processed their reactions and wanted to act with compassion towards their requests and needs as we felt they were justified. After all, if we look at it this way – we have had over 25 years knowing about our own personal dispositions and having that long to deal with the knowledge that we are born this way, it would be unfair for us to expect our families to be able to process this immediately.
We have very loving and close families on both sides, so we had no reason not to trust their own processes. We are fortunate that over time they have fully and openly come to accept and integrate us in to one another’s families. We enjoy such a wonderful acceptance from our parents and our siblings at both ends and our only advice to others in our situation is: be as empathetic and compassionate as you want your family and friends to be towards your situation.
Tell us about your wedding, and preparation of your own legalities.
Interestingly, we pulled our wedding off in record time. Both of us regularly produce events as part of a classical Indian dance company, Karma Dance, which we founded in 2010. So working together on time-critical projects and performances is something we are used to. From a logistical perspective, we got right on with the usual teamwork between us, and with the grace of the universe things fell in place. Emotionally though, we put a lot of heart and soul into it. It was so important to us to have our family and friends there and to celebrate with them, and to recognise the contributions of each and every one of them in our lives. So we wanted to make some special features such as a photo wall where we displayed a picture of every guest doing something with us in the past that stays in our minds as a memorable moment we shared with them and guests were encouraged to find their photographs and sign messages on the back. We also drew little name-tiles for every guest, where we depicted something about them that we value or enjoy.
One of the interesting things that did take some careful consideration and effort was deciding how to go about the legalities of our wedding. Same-sex marriage being illegal in Australia, we had to choose either to have our wedding overseas in a jurisdiction that it was legal in, or just have a “party” with no legality to it. Both seemed unsatisfactory choices to us. We so deeply wanted to have all our friends and family there and it would have to be Melbourne for that to work. So being forced to marry outside of the country felt unreasonable. Then, to have just a party with no ceremony or affirmation at a more societally-endorsed level also felt unreasonable. So we had to find a way to do both.
We insisted to one another that we would marry in Melbourne and went about studying our current legal rights and obligations. In doing so we decomposed what a “legal marriage” actually means, and we realised that it really just means that paper work is signed that makes it ‘easier for you to look after one another into the future’. We realised that we could achieve the same objective by signing a series of alternative paper work, and as such, signed wills in favour of one another, a statutory declaration, signed powers of attorney in favour of one another to make medical decisions in case of incapacity of either of us in old age. This suite of documents, ultimately, results in us having the same effective legal rights as a married couple and achieves the objectives of ‘making it easier to look after another into the future’ in the eyes of the law.
Govind, societal and cultural attitudes to gay marriages vary greatly and particularly the Indian community for which homosexuality is a taboo, how hard/easy was it to assert your identity?
To understand this, it is important to look at the context in which I grew up. I grew up in a South Indian Hindu family that harboured a deep affection for our culture and specifically the classical Indian arts. My sister and I grew up learning and reading Malayalam literature, learning classical Indian dance and Carnatic music. As children, our migrant family was always at the forefront of our local communities in terms of their patronage of the arts. My parents, being part of the first wave of migrants in many places they lived, took on an ‘elder’ role in the community and proactively led events and initiatives. In this context, ever since the age of 12 or so when I knew about myself, I thought it would be terrifying to stand up in front of my parents and my community and express who I truly was, or if I may phrase it differently – express how the same God they worship, was capable of making me this way. This leads me to how I overcame this mental hurdle.
Through my teenage years I involved myself a lot with classical Indian dance and music. I travelled, moved out of home to study, and met people from different religions and walks of life. And I looked at life differently, more confidently, more analytically than a teenager that is conscious of judgement from others. I came to a realisation where I felt that my sexual orientation was part of God’s design, or at least, the universe’s design and purpose for me. That self-realisation meant that, regardless of what a religion or a human-created cultural norm might tell us about what is taboo or not, I had a crystal clear acknowledgement – that I was born and made this way. Then what should I be ashamed about? It gave me confidence. Contrary to what many people might think, being a classical Indian dancer helped me a lot. As dancers we push our bodies and learn about them more, we question and in fact learn to supress or put aside our instinctive personal character to take on the character of a God or a demon or a king or a maiden. So, we are always exploring personalities, exploring our inner spirit, and there is no chance of being a devoted dancer without constantly discovering and questioning who you actually are, and who everyone else is. So I feel that my journey of self-discovery through dance is strongly linked to my journey of confidence in expressing who I am in real life.
How has marriage changed your lives?
When we think about daily life and who we are to one another, we often feel that nothing really has changed. But when we stand back and think of what getting married meant to those around us and also our broader context/life, we feel that so much has changed. The change we feel is less within us than it is around us. To have our family and friends unite in one place and affirm their loving support to us is an environmental context now that has been set in our lives because of our wedding – and that is, of course, a change. Secondly, we feel that our wedding has changed our lives because we have really had to think and diagnose the real meaning and elements of a life-long commitment.
Finally, our wedding has of course made news around Australia and back in India. We have received private messages from so many young Indian youths who are just like us but are unable to make the step to expressing who they really are. Some wrote heart-warming comments about the inspiration and confidence that the story of our wedding provided to them. I know one young boy in Sydney, who previously thought he might prefer to commit suicide, but subsequently plucked up the courage to broach the topic with his parents. So in terms of ‘change’ from our wedding, it has certainly had a positive effect on our relationship and the placement of that relationship amongst our family, friends and society. And what we could never have anticipated but has been particularly special is the impact it’s had on people like us we’ve never met.
There are some who think same sex marriages are immoral. What would you tell them?
We have never met anyone who has a close gay friend or loving relationship with their child, and still thinks it is immoral. Our suspicion is that people who have no reference to a person’s character and are thinking of homosexual people as an abstract concept can often fall into the position of adopting taboo. When you mingle and know someone and you see their character and personality, people have a chance to challenge their prejudices in the face of a real-life human experience.
One thing that we both admire though about the Indian culture is that above many things, we place a high importance on families. British TV personality Stephen Fry, produced a documentary called Out There where he travelled to countries as diverse as Nigeria, the US and India to study attitudes towards homosexuality. He finishes his documentary profiling the story of a young Brahmin man who has told his parents he is gay. The concluding quote of the whole documentary sums up what is great about our culture and why I think we can overcome this temporary idea of taboo: Family is so important to Indian culture, and often, telling your parents is not hard because they are disgusted by it, but it is hard because they are just worried what they will tell Mr & Mrs Patel next door. But you know, once they get over that then they are concerned whether the boyfriend or girlfriend has a really good job or is a doctor, etc. It seems to us to be one of the most sane and objective reactions around the world. The value your culture places on family means that, ultimately, they start assessing your relationship for whether it creates a good family. And this I think gives India hope that you fundamentally can accept this.
How far has Australia come in terms of its attitude to same sex marriage?
We think Australia’s progress on this, especially in recent years, is disappointing. Amongst countries that have legalised same-sex marriage are Argentina, Mexico, Colombia, Brazil all which operate in arguably more challenging socio-political contexts.
What are your thoughts on the plebiscite?
Our problem with the plebiscite is not so much because it affects us or those like us. If we put that aside, our objective problem with it is intellectual. The idea of a plebiscite on this issue contravenes our core democratic principles. You cannot determine the rights of a minority group through polling for a majority vote – it makes no conceptual sense to me. It is as ridiculous as assuming the freedom of the slavery of black minority in the US was decided on whether black people should be freed based on polling of a population where most people are white – this is intellectually bizarre. Section 51 of the Australian Constitution expressly grants power to the Commonwealth Government to make laws with respect to marriage, and so we see this as their obligation. They need to show leadership and legislate, not delegate a decision on minority rights to a population that is composed mainly of those who are not affected by the issue. We both feel that we object to this, because it is a pathetic reflection on Australia’s current politics and reflects poor leadership on matters that they are responsible for deciding.
Research says opponents to same sex marriage are “misinformed” about the impact a law change could have on other issues. Do you agree?
We agree. Many issues such as suicide, sexual health, HIV, mental health problems in youth, and safety of individuals are bi-products of institutionalised (whether it be through religion or law) hatred towards those who were born homosexual. The only way lives can be improved, is to systematically remove prejudices such as the denial of same-sex marriage from our society so that we do not breed homophobia and exacerbate issues such as those we have mentioned above.