back to top

The Gay Couples Who Have Waited Years For Same-Sex Marriage Have Finally Won

"What we heard was 61 point something — at which point I just burst into tears."

Posted on
Sarah Nichols (L) and Jacqui Tomlins, with their three kids.

Sarah Nichols (L) and Jacqui Tomlins, with their three kids.

At 9.56am on Wednesday, Jacqui Tomlins was in a fluster.

She was standing outside the Victorian State Library, surrounded by a tense, rainbow crowd, waiting for statistician David Kalisch to announce the result of the same-sex marriage survey.

But, as tends to happen in crowds, people had become separated. Tomlins' wife of almost 14 years, Sarah Nichols, was somewhere down the front with one of their daughters, Scout. Tomlins was with another daughter, Cully, but their eldest child, 15-year-old son Corin, was nowhere to be seen.

"Sarah was saying, 'No, come here, you can hear better!' And I said, 'No, come back here, I can’t find Corin!'," Tomlins recounted.

Tomlins and Nichols, who married in Canada in 2004, were one of two couples who filed a court case to see if their marriage could be recognised in Australia — prompting John Howard to shortly thereafter change the Marriage Act to explicitly ban same-sex marriage.

They had made the decision earlier this week to let their kids have the day off school.

"It was really important to me we were together with the kids," Tomlins said. "I was talking to them and Scout said to me, 'I only want to hear the result from you'."

With two minutes to go, Tomlins realised her hands were shaking. And then, serendipitously, the family of five convened at the same spot, just in time.

"There were a few technical issues with the live feed, it kept dropping out," Tomlins said. "What we heard was 61 point something — at which point I just burst into tears."

The figure Tomlins had half-heard was Kalisch announcing a 61.6% "yes" vote — or 7.8 million of the 12.7 million Australians who participated in the survey.

The two mothers cried and hugged their kids. "It was such a relief. And then joy, complete joy."

David Crosling / AAPIMAGE

Ron Van Houwelingen was also at the library armed, literally, with a powder cannon, ready to shoot orange dust into the sky as part of a rainbow if Australia voted "yes".

"The minute we got the news we had won, so decisively as well, those cannons went off," he told BuzzFeed News. "There were champagne cannons as well! The crowd just went crazy, it was such an uplifting moment."

Van Houwelingen and his partner, Antony McManus, have been together for over 31 years. They have had about 12 "unofficial" marriages at protests, for media, in the decades they have been campaigning for reform.

"My butterflies had appeared and reappeared several times over the past few days," Van Houwelingen told BuzzFeed News. "Because I was part of the organising committee for today’s announcement event, I felt even more trepidation, because we knew thousands of people would be there."

But, he was quietly confident.

"It’s been so tiring and gruelling this campaign, but I felt like we had done the work."

Van Houwelingen said he and McManus won't have another "huge ceremony" if a bill successfully passes the parliament, laughing "we’ve had quite a number of those before!"

But, he added, "It will be very different — the fact it will be legal this time. I imagine there will be a big reception, because so many people will be glad that it’s finally legal."

Across Australia, couples like Tomlins and Nichols, and Van Houwelingen and McManus, watched the announcement together and hugged, kissed, and cried.

The months-long survey campaign has been particularly hard on LGBT couples with kids, who have felt targeted by the "no" campaign and at times despaired over how to shield young children from the nasty comments about their families.

When Nichols and Tomlins walked down the aisle, they carried Corin, who was nine-months-old.

"He’s now just had his 15th birthday and he likes to tell us every day that he’s taller than us," Tomlins said. "It’s [been happening] his whole life. It’s his whole life, and the girls. And the kids have played a really important role in their advocacy and sticking up for our families.

"They have been courageous, and I am so proud of them."

As for an "official" wedding — well, the wedding in Canada was official, in a country where it was recognised. It is likely that any legislation passed will automatically recognise foreign same-sex marriages in Australia, ticking Tomlins and Nichols over to legal with the flourish of a pen.

But they do plan to get together with Jason and Adrian Tuazon-McCheyne, the other couple who filed a case in the Family Court with them over a decade ago, for a party.

"[It would be] some kind of recognition of our marriages from before, because we’re up to 14 years now," Tomlins said.

"The kids keep saying, 'Are you going to have a party?' So I think we’ve got to do that."

Lane Sainty is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney, Australia.

Contact Lane Sainty at

Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.