In January, Australian couple Jessica and Amanda Gould were married in Queenstown, New Zealand.
They had to travel overseas, as same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia. Following the wedding Jessica changed her surname to Amanda's so they could both go by Gould.
In Australia people who have changed their names after marriage – including overseas marriages – are entitled to a free replacement passport.
But when Gould tried to arrange a complimentary new passport, she alleges she was told by an Australian Passport Office (APO) staff member that her marriage could not be classified as married or de facto, which left Gould in tears.
"When someone says to you, we don't recognise your marriage and we don't recognise your relationship either, it's devastating," Gould told BuzzFeed News.
The Goulds have lived as a de facto couple for more than two years, and share a bank account, lease agreement and bills. Their marriage is also registered in Victoria, where overseas same-sex marriages are recognised by law.
Gould says her experience with the APO began on April 6, when she phoned to ask for more information about the free replacement passport service. She was armed with a change of name certificate from the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and a foreign marriage certificate, as directed by the APO website.
"I was told that my overseas same-sex marriage did not qualify for a free replacement passport, as the government only recognises 'heterosexual marriage'," Gould said.
The following day she made an APO appointment to get the replacement as a "de facto" couple. She claimed the appointment on April 13 turned into an "absolute nightmare".
Gould said she gave a male staff member a form outlining the proof for her "de facto" status – including information on her marriage, shared home and bank account.
"He then told me that he needed to speak with his manager, as he doesn’t get a lot of 'these' and was under the impression that my fee wouldn’t be waived," she said.
"When I asked 'Why not?', he responded with, 'I’m not sure, I will speak with my manager'. I stood at the counter for what felt like more than five minutes."
Gould said a different staff member came to ask if she was OK.
After several minutes, Gould said, the male staff member returned to inform her that the relationship didn't qualify as married or de facto, and that she was therefore not entitled to a free replacement passport.
"You can probably imagine at this point that I was incredibly insulted," Gould said.
"He showed zero empathy towards me; did not treat me as a human; and kept re-enforcing that this was the policy, even though at this point I was tearing up and almost crying."
Gould said she eventually spoke to a "professional and compassionate" manager who apologised and told her she was entitled to the replacement.
Gould told BuzzFeed News the male staff member later said to her: "I wasn't trying to disrespect you."
Even though she ended up getting the free replacement passport, the whole experience left Gould feeling "disheartened and furious".
"I think if same-sex marriage was legalised this discussion wouldn't have even happened," she told BuzzFeed News. "Just get it done. Don't make people go down different routes because they're gay or lesbian or whatever."
Ivan Hinton-Teoh, a campaigner with Australian LGBTI rights organisation just.equal told BuzzFeed News that confusion and discrimination would continue until same-sex marriage is legalised.
"Many LGBTIQ Australians are married, or are in long-term relationships," he said. "We should have a reasonable expectation that we can operate in our community without prejudice.
"A change to the Marriage Act is the only way to educate our community that LGBTIQ Australians should be treated equally under the law without exception."
In an email to Gould following a comprehensive complaint, an APO staff member acknowledged the Customer Service Charter had been breached and offered Gould an apology.
"You have raised a number of issues in your email that speak to issues of training, diversity awareness and customer service across our organisation. It is clear from our dealings with you, that we did not manage these issues well," he wrote.
"I will be discussing your concerns with our training manager, as well as our Melbourne Passport Office manager. I am confident that the changes we implement will prevent a repeat of your experience."
Gould said she was "pretty satisfied" with the response, but wanted to make sure it resulted in concrete change.
"I do feel there's an acknowledgement that what happened was wrong, and to me that means a lot, but I don't want those words to be empty," she said.
The APO supplied a statement to BuzzFeed News: “The Australian Passport Office (APO) cannot comment on individual cases. APO policy is that same sex marriage certificates (issued by an overseas authority) are sufficient evidence of a de facto relationship for the purposes of a fee waiver under the Australian Passports Determination 2015. All APO staff have been reminded of this policy.”
Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.
Contact Lane Sainty at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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