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Thursday 09 October 2008

Tor and Barb

Posted in: Civil Unions
By - 26th March 2006

Tor Devereux and Barb Long (both 38) have been together seven years, and live in Dunedin with their two sons Russell (aged 4) and Tobias (aged 2). They combined their civil union with a naming ceremony for their children, which was held last year at the Otago University Staff Club with 100 friends and family members present.

Was there a proposal?
TOR: I guess there was a proposal of sorts! On the day of the final debate and vote on the Civil Union Bill in Parliament, Barb was in Wellington and I was at home in Dunedin but we were both listening to as much of the debate as we could. As soon as the result of the final vote was announced Barb texted me and said something like, "So, should we do it then?" I took that as a proposal!

TOR & BARB: As the local Dunedin co-ordinators of the Civil Union Campaign, though, we always had an unspoken understanding that if the Bill came into effect we would take advantage of it because we had campaigned so hard to get it through and because we believed so fervently in it. We also really wanted to celebrate our relationship with family and friends in a public way and were waiting for some sort of legislation which would give our relationship a legal status.

How did your families react?
TOR & BARB: Our families have always been very supportive of our relationship and our family. They knew how involved we were in the struggle for the civil union legislation and so no doubt they also assumed that we would enter into a Civil Union if the Bill became law. We were quite humbled by the support we received from family members and straight friends during the Civil Union Bill debate and some of them even took the time to write submissions to the Select Committee expressing their support for this legislation and for the fair and equal treatment of same-sex relationships. That kind of support was especially important to us personally because of the intensity and viciousness of some of the prejudice and opposition to the civil union legislation that was being bandied about during the debate.

How did you go about building your ceremony?
TOR & BARB: It actually took us quite a lot of time to organise and plan our civil union ceremony. We had a wonderful celebrant, Philippa Jamieson, who is a friend and member of the local lesbian community. However, it was primarily the two of us who created each detail of the ceremony because we wanted each aspect of it to be meaningful to us and to reflect who we are.

We chose to use the rainbow as a symbol for our civil union because of the importance of the rainbow flag within the queer community. During the ceremony we sat under an arch of rainbow coloured balloons and we had a rainbow flag on the altar table at the front together with a large rainbow candle and rainbow candles on the tables for dinner. The rainbow theme also continued into the children's ceremony as rainbows are something magical and special for children. We had a strong NZ theme running through the ceremony as well with flax flowers in ketes (rather than real flowers), paua shells to hold our rings in on the altar table, we distributed a piece of paua to everyone there and we presented a pounamu to each of our boys.

Because our children were going to be present and part of the ceremony and because we invited various other families with younger children, the ceremony was quite informal in many respects and we had children wandering around and coming up the front and playing with the rainbow arch – and that was how we wanted it to be. A few people were hesitant about bringing their children along, but we were really clear that it was to be a day for everyone, not just the adults.

There were very few elements in our civil union ceremony that would be considered traditional - no best men or women, no one giving anyone away, etc. We got some books out from the library about more alternative weddings and commitment ceremonies and read about some on the internet, and this gave us some ideas to get us started. But basically we just included what we felt was important for us. We had a number of readings and speeches during the ceremony which was a nice way of involving other people, we wrote our vows and also included a guest affirmation to highlight that all those present are part of our future together as a couple.

When it came to the issue of rings we had a bit of a problem because we each already had a commitment ring that we had worn for many years. This is a silver band that originally had one copper loop on it. When we became parents we added another copper loop and so we decided that we would add a third loop – this time a silver one - to mark our civil union. We removed our rings before the ceremony, the celebrant blessed them and then we presented them to each other together after our vows.

Did anything take you by surprise during the organising, or on the day itself?
BARB: When we first started organising our civil union I found it frustrating to have to explain to some businesses that we were potentially going to use what a civil union was and correct their assumption that I was marrying a man! We also a bad experience with the venue we initially chose as they ended up not wanting children there for dinner and then they casually suggested that we change the time of our event to earlier in the day. It's very hard to imagine anyone suggesting this for a (straight) wedding!

TOR: We were a bit surprised by the fact that there was so much to organise! We soon understood why people hire wedding planners and why they plan these sorts of events a year or more ahead. We did all our planning within about 4 months and so it was quite intense at times!

TOR & BARB: The feeling of love and support that surrounded us during our civil union ceremony was amazing and something very special to experience. We were taken aback at the end of the ceremony when everyone stood up and clapped. It was also wonderful to hear people talking afterwards about how much they were moved by the ceremony – apparently quite a few were even moved to tears.

What were the best - and worst - parts of the day?
TOR & BARB: Best part was having most of our friends and family members together at the same time in the same place to celebrate something special – our love for each other and commitment to one another. And, of course, having our relationship acknowledged in a very public – and legal – way.

TOR: Worst part – that it was all over too quickly!

BARB: And that our video of the ceremony was destroyed a couple of weeks later when my office went up in the flames.

Did you have a honeymoon?
BARB: There was enough to organise for the civil union without trying to organise a honeymoon as well!

TOR: With two under-fives (and one who still breastfeeds) this was never going to be a happening thing!!! And, I couldn't actually imagine being away from our boys for any significant length of time. Perhaps we'll have a very belated honeymoon when the kids are older …

Do you feel any different now?
TOR: On a day-to-day basis I don't feel very different because prior to the civil union I believed that we were in a long-term committed relationship anyway. However, I think that it's very important for our children to grow up knowing that their parents' relationship has a legal status because I believe this gives them a better sense of security. And, there have been instances already since our civil union when being in a civil union has been beneficial to us from a legal perspective.

BARB: People often ask me this question, and I find it difficult to respond. I guess for me our civil union indicates a lifetime commitment to being with Tor and ensuring that I live up to my vows.

How do you feel about the use of terms like "wedding", "marriage" and "wife"? Do you use them?
TOR & BARB: We used the term “wedding” to refer to our civil union with our kids because that word made sense to Russell. He's quite clear now that a wedding can be between a man and a woman, two women or two men - it's so simple for kids! (If only it could stay like that …)

TOR: I personally generally use the term "civil union" rather than "wedding" or "marriage" when talking to other adults just to ensure that the people I'm talking to didn't think that I might be straight! If you refer to a “civil union” then there's a good chance that you're in a same-sex relationship.

BARB: Sometimes I refer to Tor as my wife, but generally only at home and usually in jest.

Any advice for other couples planning to get hitched?
TOR & BARB: Make sure that you give yourselves plenty of time to plan things. Do exactly what you want to do and not what you think others may expect you to do or what others want you to do. This is your special day after all – not anyone else's – and chances are it's going to be a once in a lifetime thing so there's no point having any regrets. Make it special for the two of you.

And choose a celebrant carefully – make sure you feel comfortable with them and that they are willing to listen to what you want to do. - 26th March 2006