WITH "AUNTIE MERLE"
ARGUS ETIQUETTE CORRESPONDENT *
A wedding day is such a beautiful occasion that it comes as a shock to be told it wasn't a wedding day at all!
After the joy of the ceremony, the vows you went to all the trouble to write, the flowers, the best man's - I mean best person's - jokes, the flowing nectar of the vintages at the winery where you made this public declaration of your love - or perhaps, as is now very popular, you opted for a more unusual venue and exchanged rings to the warm whoosh of a hot air balloon wafting you skyward - an Invalidation is not only an anticlimax but a most distressing experience!
A number of Argus readers in our nation's Capital Territory have had their hopes and dreams shattered by the misfortune of Invalidation, and it's all the sadder coming so soon after their Big Day. Some will have heard the news while still on honeymoon (perhaps in the case of the more "roving-eyed" new grooms while endeavouring to "come on" to the waiters at Hayman Island!) or before they have even had a chance to take their going-away frock to the dry cleaners; some of the brides will have heard while climbing into the Yakka and gumboots to resume their labours on the cheese farm, or when newly returned to their desks at the Department of Human Rights and Gender Equality Enforcement. Wherever, it will have come as a blow, and several of the newly unweds have written to me to ask about the correct etiquette for dealing with this unexpected difficulty.
Here are some points to remember to make a social success of your Invalidation.
LETTING PEOPLE KNOW
Many of your family and friends, especially those who take a keen interest in "marriage equality", will already know about your misfortune from reports in the "media". But I think is it always nice to send out a beautiful card for a special occasion. If you know anyone with a flair for illustration you might ask them to design a card in the style of that clever artist Leunig's cartoons, perhaps showing Tony Abbott (or even John Howard - Leunig does him so well!) as a wicked witch casting a spell on the happiness of two innocent lovers! - or if a witch is too misogynistic, an evil Nazi in jackboots trampling on their dreams. Those who were your guests on your Big Day might like to keep this as a souvenir of your Invalidation. And before you ask, yes, these days it is quite acceptable socially to send out cards by Touchnote or to make the announcement on Facebook.
An Invalidation does not oblige you to return presents to their donors, since these were given in good faith before the Invalidation was pronounced. On the other hand, if the present is not to your taste, your Invalidation is a good opportunity to be rid of it without giving offence.
TEARS AND TANTRUMS
For two happy young people in the springtime of their love it is bad enough to see their special day of joy snatched away before the ink is dry on the marriage certificate. (Of course I am aware that not all those affected are that young and that there are some very tender "winter-spring" invalidations, particularly among the more mature grooms who have had the good fortune to travel to some of the beautiful countries in South-East Asia or to Japan, but that's not the point.) Don't make things worse by letting your Invalidation poison your happiness together! There is a certain tendency in what I believe is known as today's "me" culture to react to any little disappointment by screaming and shouting like naughty children. This sort of childish tantrum is usually directed at the nearest available target, irrespective of blame. In your case this would almost certainly be the person you love most, your "better half". PLEASE don't ruin your future by giving in to this kind of irrational anger. Gentlemen couples: no hissy fits with each other, or biting and scratching. Ladies: do not punch your partner. And remarks such as, "If you hadn't been such a tightarse we could have gone to Canada where it's legal," or "I told you we should have waited but you wanted to be first cab off the rank to impress them all at Stonewall / the women's cricket team / to shove it to your Christian fundamentalist parents" are unhelpful to say the least.
That doesn't mean you don't have a right to be upset. Of course you do, but it is always better, as Australia's greatest Prime Minister so sagely advised, to maintain our rage and direct its full blast at those who are really responsible for thwarting you. Homophobic judges in the High Court, the Australian Family Association, nasty Cardinal Pell - all these are suitable targets for your annoyance. The correct etiquette here is to find out the addresses of individuals involved in the Invalidation process and seek advice from "activism" experts such as Greenpeace, Occupy or the International Socialist Students on suitable means of conveying your displeasure in no uncertain terms!
In modern etiquette it is de rigeur socially to sue someone for any personal inconvenience. This has the additional advantage of helping defuse your irritation (see above). The most obvious candidates for legal action are the venue of your wedding, on the grounds of receiving monies under false pretences, that is, for a wedding subsequently invalidated (it should surely have been the venue operator's responsibility to ensure that the wedding was fully legal under all Australian law) and, for identical reasons, the celebrant. You could toy with suing the Australian Capital Territory and the High Court, but please consult your solicitor about likely expense. You don't want to start your Invalidated life destitute! By the way, if you don't already have a solicitor, I always recommend Messrs Slater & Gordon, a long established and eminently respectable firm which even has a former Prime Minister among its distinguished past personnel!
THE BRIGHT SIDE
Some marriages, sad to say, are entered into hastily and are unlikely to last. A night's "clubbing", a chance encounter walking the dog in the park or a shared passion for Ladies' Kickboxing might not be a firm basis on which to enter into matrimony. If your new marriage was starting to look shaky, and you were already getting sick of each other, your Invalidation is providential. You and your "other half" can amicably go your own separate ways, without the expense and rancour of divorce.
Dame Nature has not been kind to "same-sex" couples, but thanks to the generous efforts of many public-spirited folk - doctors, politicians, Third World women of child-bearing age and, in many cases, kind friends - this unfair obstacle has been overcome and many such couples have been blessed with their own little "bundle of joy" before or after celebrating their union. Your Invalidation in no way threatens your parenting rights, so be thankful for that!
Unhappily, though, the trauma of an Invalidation can turn two lovebirds against each other. The next thing is a "tug of war" over your little person, just as in the "heteronormative" world. There is nothing I can suggest here except old-fashioned goodwill. Do your best to share the care of the young life entrusted to you (don't worry: etiquette decrees that you are each entitled to seek the "lion's share" of access for yourself).
If you are really lucky, though, you'll be among those fortunate couples who can avoid squabbling over these things because, for you, becoming an adoptive parent was never more than a passing fancy, a demand to show that being a same-sex couple wasn't going to stop you having what non-same-sex couples have, and once the novelty wore off your little newcomer was not really wanted at all. In these circumstances the correct etiquette is for one post-Invalidation partner, if she/he wishes, to take on sole parenting rights and, if that's too much of a burden, pass the little one on to grandma and grandpa to look after. If there is no grandma and grandpa, and if neither of you want to sacrifice your newly separate social lives cleaning up after children, contemporary etiquette would require that your bundle of joy be sent back to India or wherever, or if of local provenance, handed over to social workers to be passed on to someone else.
Have a great day!
* Auntie Merle wishes to point out that she is of mixed Scottish and English descent and is a genuine aunt as traditionally understood in the English tongue. She is not in the category of aunt as the term has begun to be used in certain Australian circles and is not available to conduct smoking ceremonies, welcomes to country etc.
16 December 2013