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Wednesday 08 April 2009

Doreen and Lindsey

Posted in: Civil Unions
By Chris Banks - 5th February 2006

Doreen Agassiz-Suddens & Lindsey Rea
Auckland couple Doreen Agassiz-Suddens (58) and Lindsey Rea (56) had been together for twenty years before deciding to have their civil union. They chose Ferndale House in Mt Albert as the venue for their ceremony and reception.

Did either of you propose?

DOREEN: No. It just evolved. We've been together for 20 years, there wasn't any clear cut decision. I think the idea probably came from Lindsey, she suggested it, mainly so we could give each other legal security and kinship status, and an excuse to have a party!

Do you remember when you first discussed the idea?

LINDSEY: I think we were just at home. Our friends, Denise and Jo, had told us that they were getting civil unioned, and we talked about it all the way through the campaign. We were involved a bit in the campaign. At some stage I said to Doreen, should we do it? And I think she shrugged her shoulders and said, we might as well.

A pragmatic decision, almost?

LINDSEY: Well, my feeling was it was a bit churlish not to seeing as we worked hard for it, we were interested in the legal protections that it gives, so yes, we might as well!

How did your families react?

LINDSEY: They thought it was great. My brother and his family came all the way from Ireland for the ceremony.

DOREEN: Lindsey's sisters-in-law were all very keen, they wanted to decorate the hall. My brother was quite excited, he said it was good to have a happy celebration as our mother had died a month earlier. So there weren't any problems from our families at all, they were all quite excited about it.

Were there quite a few kids there?

DOREEN: Yes. The youngest there was our great-nephew, my nephew's boy, who is three months old. There were lots of kids, because Lindsey's brother from Ireland has got three young boys. There were teenagers, cousins, relatives, and their kids...

How did you go about building your ceremony?

LINDSEY: If it had been up to us, it would have been – hello, nice to see everybody here, yes Josie we do, have a drink! (laughs). We were looking to be as minimalist as possible. However, as people had taken the time and trouble to come from a long way away, we thought we should at least say a few things to each other about what we were doing, just to explain to people what it meant to us. As far as we're concerned with civil union, you're starting with a blank slate. You can do what you want. So we said, we'll do what's important to us, which is to talk to our family and our friends about our relationship, we value it, how we've done it for the last 20 years, how we intend to keep on doing it, and give them an opportunity to recognise that and say something about it if they chose.

DOREEN: The woman who did our ceremony, Josie Roberts, is a straight woman who's been a good friend of ours for many years. She's a marriage celebrant, but she also registered to be a civil union celebrant. She was very keen to do a service, so we thought we have to have Josie do it. She gave us a book that she uses for her marriages, we looked through, took a bit of this, bit of that, and then we just wrote what we wanted. The vows were what I wanted to say, and what Lindsey wanted to say. It was built up from parts of the marriage celebrant book, but very was a bit of a guideline, and a big percentage of it was done from what we wrote ourselves.

Was anyone else involved in the ceremony besides yourselves and the celebrant?

DOREEN: Our two witnesses – they were a couple of dykes who'd had their civil union a couple of months prior to us. Once the whole official part was over, Josie asked the assembled crowd if anyone wanted to say anything. That's when my brother said something, and one of Lindsey's brothers did, and various other people popped up and said a few things as well.

Did you use any terms like marriage, wedding, or wife?

DOREEN: No. We're a couple of old lesbian feminists who see marriage as something that involves giving people away and possession and all that sort of thing. We wouldn't object if gay marriage was eventually accepted in New Zealand, but when we sent out the invitations, it said “this is not a wedding – it's a civil union”. We were very clear about that. Marriage does have an element of heterosexuality and possession about it.

LINDSEY: Wedding – it's a different law. Wedding's got a lot of baggage. And we wanted to be entirely free of any of that sort of baggage.

So if gay marriage was around, you'd still have chosen this?

LINDSEY: If gay marriage was around, we'd have still chosen a civil union I think. Keep away from all that baggage. I said at the ceremony, you're dealing with a couple of unreconstructed 1970s feminists (laughs).

Despite the fact you've been together so long, did you find yourself becoming emotional on the day?

LINDSEY: We were both a bit shattered actually. Doreen was hung over and I was ill (laughs). We'd been running around for days beforehand getting it all sorted, so we hadn't thought very much about that sort of thing. It was quite emotional being there. My sister-in-law was in tears, there were a few other people snuffling away quietly. It was a bit more emotional than I think we'd expected.

DOREEN: I was worried. I even said to Lindsey before, I was worried that I was going to burst into tears. And she said, after 20 years? And I said yes. But on the day, I think I was saved by my hangover. That came from the night before, we spent an evening with Lindsey's family, she has quite a large family. I drank little bits of wine in a glass, but little bits mount up!

Best part of the day?

DOREEN: That it all went well. There weren't any major problems or dramas, we didn't have Brian Tamaki turning up with a flaming cross and planting it on the front lawn (laughs). We had straights, gays and lesbians, people who'd never met each other before and a big family contingent. And everybody was happy and had a good time. There was a straight couple who are friends of ours – they emailed later to say how much they'd enjoyed it, and the male couldn't stop talking about it. He wanted them to have a civil union as well. A number of straight people we spoke to, they were all a bit weepy and tearful, like a traditional wedding type situation (laughs)...the thing I was impressed with, was how everybody got on and how they felt about the day.

LINDSEY: Going home at the end of it and thinking – well that's done (laughs). No, seriously...the best part for me was getting the photos of all our families together on the steps of Ferndale, getting all the pictures taken. All our nieces and nephews and cousins, and brothers, sisters-in-law etc.

Was there a worst part of the day?


LINDSEY: I couldn't find Doreen when we were ready to start because she'd gone to the toilet (laughs). I thought, where the fuck's she gone? We're all ready to go. Everybody was sitting there, and she'd vanished! (laughs).

Do you feel any different now?

DOREEN: I feel more secure.

LINDSEY: A little bit.

Were you expecting to feel any different?

LINDSEY: No, I don't think so, not after 20 years. We're just coming to the realisation that we now tick different boxes in forms and things. We're looking forward to the Census, where we can tick those boxes differently. And the fact that we've now got those legal protections. I feel a bit more secure. Secure as far as our relationship to the rest of the world, we seem to be reasonably secure in our relationship with each other.

DOREEN: Probably not, I probably thought I'd feel exactly the same. Everybody was making jokes. Because there is no precedent for civil unions, a lot of straight people and younger people, based on marriage, were saying “Oh you're going to be trapped” and “you're tying yourself down” – joking, you know?

I imagine it's difficult to have illusions after twenty years.

DOREEN: Yes, definitely. People who've have known us, they can make those jokes because they know we've been together for twenty years, it's not going to make a difference on the whole. We just continue on. But we do feel more secure knowing we are each other's next of kin now.

Did you have a honeymoon?

DOREEN: No, Lindsey and I have too many cats to go away both at the same time. If we had a honeymoon, we'd have to go separately.

LINDSEY: We had our honeymoon 20 years ago. We went down to Nelson to see a friend of mine, then we travelled round a bit, round the top of the South Island.

Any advice for other couples planning a civil union?

LINDSEY: Do what you want. Celebrants are changing, I think. They're moving away from the basic book of how you do a wedding. But somebody's identified a niche in the market – civil union greeting cards! Somebody needs to do that, because we got a whole bunch of cards – some of them were adapted wedding cards, some were general ‘congratulations', but there's not a card for civil union. We got some very fun cards, though. We said to people we didn't want presents. We said after 20 years we've got enough stuff.

Did people bring presents anyway?

LINDSEY: No, what we asked for is for people to give a donation to the SPCA or the Lonely Meow Society because we like cats, and if they really had to turn up with something, bring a bottle of wine. So we seem to have made a profit on the grog. We came out with more wine than we took in! Everybody had a good time, there was plenty to eat, plenty to drink.

DOREEN: My advice would be, for people to make it as relaxed as possible. It's much more enjoyable. There are other people who like more formal things, but there was no religious element to our day. The only time someone was disappointed that there wasn't a religious element was when they were looking for a Bible to prop the window up. They couldn't find one, so they used a plastic bowl instead.

Chris Banks - 5th February 2006