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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Daniel and William

Posted in: Civil Unions
By Chris Banks - 12th February 2006

Daniel & William
Ex-pat Kiwi Robert William Raillant-Clark (23) and his partner Daniel David Raillant-Clark (27) have been together for three and a half years. They believe so strongly in the institution of marriage that they did it twice – once in their home city of Paris (where civil unions are allowed) and again in Vancouver, where same-sex marriage is possible.

Did either of you propose?

WILLIAM: Yes, I proposed to Daniel. It was in January 2002 - I had just been to New Zealand, and all my family and friends were very supportive of the idea. Daniel had to go to Montréal on business, and I decided to come along. I had visions of proposing in the snow in a park but, as it turns out, minus 20 degree celsius weather is not as romantic as I thought! So I waited 'til we got home to Paris, and then asked him on our sofa "Would you consider spending the rest of your life with me ?" Then we had to have a half-hour discussion on what our gender-political views on gay marriage were!

How did your families react to your announcement?

WILLIAM AND DANIEL: Both our families have been really supportive. They flew out from New Zealand and California to come to our ceremony in Paris, and they also came to the receptions we held in Wellington and San Francisco. We also had afternoon tea with William's 92-year old Nana in Tauranga and "cookies and cranberry juice" with Daniel's Grandma in San José, who warmly welcomed us to each other's family.

How did you go about building your ceremony?

WILLIAM AND DANIEL: We live in Paris 4, the gay district, and the local City Hall has a set procedure for civil union celebrations, as they do for marriages. In fact, all people who wish to marry according to French law must do so at the City Hall, as religious weddings are not recognised due to the separation of church and state. The civil union celebration is based on the marriage ceremony, with the exception being that the documents they gave us were of symbolic value only (a civil union is concluded at the local court, not at the City Hall).

However, there was an opportunity for us to speak freely, so we devised our own vows. We based them on the traditional "love, honour and obey" from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, but we removed all religious references as any expression of this kind is forbidden in French public buildings.

There is a great tradition in provincial French villages - the married couple march from their religious wedding at the Church to the Town Hall with all their guests in tow. Well, our reception room was on the other side of the Marais (the gay village), so we too decided to have our wedding march! It was fantastic, and people passing by and sitting on café terraces wished us good luck and congratulations.

Why did you decide to marry twice?

WILLIAM AND DANIEL: We had our marriage in Vancouver for purely legal reasons, so we chose to keep it very basic. Our marriage commissioner had a lovely speech prepared, and she married us underneath the lighthouse in beautiful Stanley Park.

How do you feel about the use of terms like "wedding", "marriage" and "husband"? Do you use them?

WILLIAM: For us the terms "wedding" and "marriage" are important as the meanings are universal, in the legal, social and cultural sense. For us, that's one of the best things about being married: people understand immediately what our relationship is and what our obligations are to one another. Unless they're totally confused!

DANIEL: Actually, we had a bit of a moment with the woman in the shop where we made our wedding registry. At first she insisted that it should be a "civil union registry", but after we explained we were actually getting married in Canada, she understood. As for "husband", we use it most of the time, and it gets quite an interesting reaction from people. Most recently, I called my dentist to make an appointment for William, and he and his assistant were very confused as to what I was talking about. But people come around after a short explanation. The most complicated situations are ones involving legal paperwork, when we have to figure out how we are legally allowed to refer to one another.

Why did you decide to take each other's surnames?

WILLIAM AND DANIEL: It seemed natural that we should have the same name, since we are now a family. Although it's a bit of a paper-war, as Daniel has to change his name in the United States and they don't recognise our Canadian marriage.

Did anything take you by surprise during the organising?

WILLIAM AND DANIEL: When we first decided to get married in January 2004, we didn't think there would be any possibility to have any formal recognition of our relationship, so the first surprise was to discover that we could in fact get legally married in Canada! And we were ecstatic when we discovered that we could use the salle des mariages (the marriage room) in our magnificent 19th century City Hall for a symbolic ceremony conducted by the deputy-mayor. During the course of that year, the legal situation changed significantly as well, so there was a lot of keen attention paid to and! Otherwise, the biggest surprise has been how little people within our own community know about the legal situation with regards to gay marriage: we've had very long and drawn out conversations in bars and cafés about what the difference is between civil union and marriage, why it's worth fighting for, and so forth.

What was the best part about the day?

WILLIAM: The best part of the day [in Paris] was realising the amazing support we had from our family, our friends, from the local administration and from the community generally. I never thought I would give a damn what the man on the street thought, but it was nice to have people cheering you along. The City Hall offered us a symbolic ceremony in defiance of the national administration's ban on gay marriage. And aside from the mere fact that our dearest friends and family travelled thousands of kilometres to witness our big day, they all said the most beautiful things to us.

Was there a worst part?

WILLIAM: I guess the worst part of the day was when my mum turned up 5 minutes before the ceremony was due to start to iron my brother's shirt - we thought we were going to be late!

DANIEL: Although I know I look stunning in the photos (laughs), I was feeling quite ill as I was coming down with tonsillitis on my "day of days".

Did you have a honeymoon?

DANIEL: We had a week-long honeymoon in arguably one of the most beautiful cities on Earth, Rio de Janeiro. It was part of our 5-week world tour to celebrate our marriage with receptions in both of our home countries and to get to Canada for the legal wedding.

Do you feel any different now?

WILLIAM: No not at all - our friends have always referred to us teasingly as the "old married couple", so I guess we were destined to be together. We still love each other, still support each other one-hundred percent, and are still learning from each other - I can't imagine how our relationship could change.

DANIEL: I was a little worried that our relationship would change, because you always hear horror stories about what happens to couples after they marry. But in reality, our change in legal status hasn't changed our feelings for one another at all.

Do you want to have children?

WILLIAM AND DANIEL: Yes, of course we have thought about having children, although it's not an issue in the short term. We think in about 10 years we might like to adopt or "find a friend with a spoon". Actually, we've already thought of a name - if it's a little girl, we'd like to call her Marie-Hélène.

Do you plan on moving back to New Zealand, and if so, would you have a civil union here and do it a third time?

WILLIAM AND DANIEL: Well, who knows what could happen! No, we do not intend on taking a New Zealand civil union as the New Zealand government should recognise our Canadian marriage. Other people who are married in Canada are not required to go through any additional administrative or legal hurdles, and we don't see why we should be treated any differently.

Any advice for other couples planning to get hitched?

WILLIAM: Find out for yourself what your options are, and research everything thoroughly. A lot of people have a lot of well-meaning but misguided and incorrect information. We were told dozens of times that we could get "married" in New Zealand, and as recently as last week someone told us that the Czech government was on the point of passing gay marriage. So it's important to contact the relevant authorities yourself to find out what's going on, especially considering the rapid changes taking place at the moment.

DANIEL: Make it all about you, and don't let anyone else's expectations of the day change that.

Chris Banks - 12th February 2006