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Saturday 10 October 2009

Martin & Mark

Posted in: Civil Unions
By Chris Banks - 2nd April 2006

Martin Kaulback and Mark Newdick (both 32) have been together nearly seven years and now live in Wellington, having originally met in London. They held their civil union at their home last year with around 45 family and friends, some of whom travelled from overseas for the occasion.

Was there a proposal?

MARTIN: Yes. Mark proposed to me.

How did that happen?

MARTIN: On his knee (laughs). On a beach, just outside Dunedin. It was just after Easter last year, and we had our civil union on the 29th of December.

MARK: I had been planning it a couple of months. I looked at rings, and we'd had this trip down to Dunedin planned, and I saw that as a good opportunity. I wanted to make it a romantic occasion, somewhere that we'd remember. I actually planned to do it at the albatross colony because Martin has always been a big fan of birds, having grown up on a farm in Zimbabwe, but it didn't quite work out that way, so I just kind of went with the flow, bottled my nerves, waited for the right moment – and that came when we went down to a beach by ourselves.

Did it come as a surprise?

MARTIN: It did come as a surprise to me, I guess because we'd made a commitment to each other quite a long time before. We actually met in London and moved to Australia before coming here. I guess it was just something that I thought we'd do one day, maybe, but I certainly didn't think we'd be doing it so quickly after it had been legalised.

MARK: I think I was probably more taken by surprise than Martin was in terms of the emotions.

Were you nervous?

MARK: A little bit nervous, I didn't feel any fear of rejection, because as Martin said, our relationship had already taken that level of commitment anyway. For me, this is really a romantic way of expressing that commitment. I wanted to do it in the nicest possible way, cos you only get to do that sort of thing once.

What were the reasons behind moving to New Zealand from Australia?

MARTIN: So Mark could be closer to his family. He's a Kiwi, he grew up in Blenheim. Also, my parents were leaving Zimbabwe. We were in Australia at the time and they asked us what our plans were. We said we were going to end up in New Zealand eventually, so they came over here.

How did your families react to the announcement?

MARTIN: My family reacted very excitedly. They love Mark, and they value our relationship, I've been out to my parents for a long time. I came out at school to my friends in Zimbabwe. So they've known Mark for all our relationship, just about. I think it appealed a little bit to my Dad's traditionalist views of relationships.

MARK: We initially phoned Martin's parents the next day [after the proposal] and told them and they were overjoyed. They were all in tears, it was all very emotional and very lovely. But their view on everything is quite different to my parents, who don't cope with it as well. I saved it for when I was going to see them face to face, cos I knew it would be difficult. Their reaction was quite horrific, and quite traumatic to be honest. In their words, it was “a bridge too far”. They can accept that Martin and I live together, because they can't change it, and this was pushing it a little bit further.

Did any of your family come to the ceremony?

MARK: I invited every single member of the family, and everybody checked with mum and dad about their feelings. They swear and declare that they didn't tell anybody that they shouldn't come, but most people didn't come because of my parents' feelings. I did have some family there, and it was a really important thing, in hindsight, for me, that they were there. It made it have a lot more weight. I had really strong reservations about whether I should tell or invite any of the family, because I did suspect that there would be quite a reaction to it, and I didn't want to be turned down. You don't want to ask somebody's blessing and have it refused, and have to carry on anyway... but that's the situation that we did have.

How have relations been with the family subsequently?

MARK: My parents have a really strong will to carry on despite our differences. It took a little while for the bruises to heal, but since then, we're talking, calling each other... we just don't talk about it, I guess. That's the way we've resolved it.

Are the objections to do with religion?

MARK: Ostensibly, partly. There's a fundamental belief that ‘it's wrong', but I don't actually think they know where that comes from other than a general sense of homophobia. I don't think they fully understand those feelings, but that's just my theory.

How did you go about building your ceremony?

MARTIN: We wanted to build it around what gave us meaning. We established quite early on that we didn't feel the need to follow any tradition... that doesn't mean that we did anything wildly untraditional, but it was about our commitment to each other, and about sharing about that with people who loved us, and who cared about us. Marks' family were very hostile to the whole thing, so we had to be very clear about why we were doing it, cos we met a tremendous amount of resistance. We were doing it because we love each other, and we wanted to share that publicly.

Did you exchange rings?

MARTIN: We did, we wanted rings made for ourselves, we didn't want to buy them just off the rack. We also got a line of poetry that's meaningful to us inscribed on the inside of the ring.

Did you write the ceremony yourselves?

MARTIN: Our celebrant Bill Logan gave us a structure, an outline, to work with and we then built on that. Then we added in some poetry. My sister read an Apache blessing.

Did you write your own vows?


MARK: I'm not a really strong writer, it just doesn't occur to me like some other things do. Martin is much more the writer. We really liked what Bill had written –
what was in there seemed to come from a great deal of experience, a great deal of thought. It seemed right for us. In some ways it was fairly close to a [straight] wedding script. If you hadn't seen the two of us you could be forgiven for thinking it was a straight wedding, and I was initially quite uncomfortable with that.

How do you feel about terms like 'marriage', 'wedding', and 'husband'?

MARTIN: We don't particularly like them. We still refer to each other as boyfriends. But we do talk of having “a wedding”.

MARK: Personally I think ‘husband' is a bit stuffy, that's the only reason I think we don't use it. I really avoided that sort of language initially. I didn't feel the marriage scenario applied to us, that it had been denied to us for so long that I wasn't interested in trying to get close to that. But strangely enough, the closer we got to it, the more comfortable I was with the language of saying – yes, I am actually getting married. This isn't something other than what you [straight couples] have.

If same-sex marriage were legal, would you have done that instead?

MARTIN: No, because marriage has the connotations of religion, I think. An establishment that, as gay men, we enjoy the freedom of not having to live within.

Why did you decide to have the ceremony at home?

MARK: We had fairly limited resources, so we were going to keep it low key and in character with ourselves, we're not flashy people. I'm just not a function hall or a church kind of guy. We'd just bought a house, and we loved the fact that this is our home. I guess that's kind of the point of civil union, it's about celebrating who we are and what we have with our friends and stating that clearly. A home is almost like a third party in the relationship to us, it's where we stand.

MARTIN: We'd organised friends to each bring a particular type of salad or an entree or whatever for afterwards. We had a whole salmon on the barbecue, a couple of whole fillets, so we had that hot food...

So it was a very Kiwi "bring a plate" affair?

MARTIN: It was an organised bring a plate affair. We actually paid for all the food ourselves, it just made it more possible to do it at home.

What did you wear?

MARTIN: We had our clothes made. The colours were complementary, and the styles, although quite different. We had the little grooms on the cake made, and they looked the same, which is really fun.

MARK: I'm a landscape architect, so I enjoy getting fussy about details. My shirt was a cowboy shirt, chocolate brown with turquoise piping and two little fantails embroidered on each lapel as a symbol of good luck. We wanted to be seen as a couple, but not matching. So Martin had a similar check pattern, but his colour base was more olive green, with a silvery blue shirt which was picked up in the check of his pants as well. The whole thing kind of gained a momentum of its own, that just felt so right... I know that all sounds very misty-eyed, but things just happened that you couldn't have wished for.

Best part of the day?

MARTIN: What I said to Mark, and what he said back to me.

MARK: Martin's mum's speech. She's a very strong, funny and diplomatic woman. She gave a speech that touched on a lot of different things – the absence of my parents... she told a funny little story about her husband Willy's Estonian stepmother... she was very superstitious and believed in keeping trinkets and charms around her. When they met she pressed tiny little thing, a stone phallus with a cock and balls on it, into Martin's mum's hand, which flabbergasted both of us (laughs). It was given to her as a fertility symbol, and was told it would make their marriage strong. Then she pulled it out and the end of the speech and gave it to us, which made everybody laugh. Sometimes I struggle with the amount of doubt my family have about our relationship, and just to have somebody who is one of our parents in that role, somebody articulate enough to take it out of our hands and say, this is a right and beautiful thing...

Did anything take you by surprise?

MARTIN: I think the emotion on the day took both of us by surprise, and the reality of making a public declaration about some very personal things. It was tremendously emotional, and quite difficult at some times. What did – but perhaps shouldn't – have taken me by surprise was the real warmth of emotion from the people around us.

MARK: I was surprised at how effortless it was after the ceremony. Friends really pitched in to help, I expected the whole day to be more stressful. The organising beforehand was quite stressful.

You had a honeymoon?

MARTIN: Kind of. We had quite a few friends who came from Australia and Europe. We hired a house on the West Coast of the South Island for about four days with them, then Mark and I went camping at Autumn Farm together.

MARK: Because we've got a dog and they've got chickens they put us right down the end of the farm. So we had a lot of space and a lot of privacy, and spent most of our days on the beach or in the river, and that was a real honeymoon. We had a whole week, and it was just blissful.

Do you feel any different now?

MARTIN: Yes. A lot closer, and really happy to do it. We had a fantastic day, and we had a great time together, and it made me think about why we are together, and really appreciate those things. But in the long term, no, not that much different, because we've been together seven years, we made our personal commitment to each other some years back.

MARK: For a couple of weeks before and a couple of weeks afterwards, I just felt like something had lifted us up. We felt incredibly in love... you know that feeling when you first fall in love, and it feels like you don't even have to put the steps in place, you just coast through life? That's what it was like. Then afterwards, things came back down to earth. There were mixed emotions afterwards, and I had to recognise those consciously...processing what this had all meant to our family, because I didn't really process it at the time, because I just couldn't. It does feel different – but in a really good way. There's a feel of solidity, that our relationship is strengthened somehow. Not that it didn't exist before...maybe I'm more ferocious about it now.

Any advice for other couples planning a civil union?

MARK: Don't skimp on the details. It doesn't have to be grand.

MARTIN: Make it a fun day, and keep it within the scope of what you want to do. It can easily get really expensive. For us, it wasn't about spending a whole lot of money, it was about a personal thing, and we wanted to do that in a meaningful way for us. I think people have to find that out for themselves. It's quite daunting to start off with, because there's no protocol to follow. But it's actually a really liberating thing and you can have a great deal of fun.

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Chris Banks - 2nd April 2006