An MP in South Australia has introduced a bill to parliament offering protection to those in same-sex relationships following the tragic case of a British man whose husband died while on honeymoon in the state, which did not recognise their marriage.
As a result, David Bulmer-Rizzi's death certificate read "never married" and his grieving husband was unable to act as his next of kin. The new legislation will grant many of the rights heterosexual couples enjoy.
Same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia and overseas same-sex marriages are not recognised in several territories, including South Australia.
Still grieving after the sudden death of his husband in January, Marco Bulmer-Rizzi flew into Adelaide on Thursday morning to meet with Labor MP Katrine Hildyard, the assistant minister to the premier of South Australia, who presented the bill.
Upon landing, he told BuzzFeed News: "I feel this is part of my fulfilment to the
promise I made to David when we got married. I have to stand by him. He can’t speak but I can. They denied our marriage and they promised they would make it right."
Following international outrage at how Bulmer-Rizzi was treated – which included all the end-of-life decisions having to be agreed by his father-in-law as he was not deemed next of kin – Jay Weatherhill, the premier of South Australia, phoned him to apologise for what had happened. He promised him a new death certificate for his husband and pledged to introduce laws that would at least recognise overseas same-sex marriages.
This bill goes further, however, as it also introduces a register for Australian same-sex couples, which will grant them next-of-kin status and also offer some adoption rights.
If the bill passes later this month, which it is expected to, Bulmer-Rizzi said it would have profound consequences far beyond his own experience.
"All the people who will not have to go through what I did in South Australia – there are so many things that this bill will enable couples to live an equal life and just be a family," he said. "All I wanted was for as many people to embark on the same journey that me and David did. I will feel that I have taken my promise to David as far as I could. It would enable me to look in the mirror with honour and feel I was true to my marriage."
Following David Bulmer-Rizzi's death, his husband then suffered a series of further humiliations, as the ashes were confiscated at Hong Kong airport as security staff did not recognise the marriage or Marco's next-of-kin status, and months after Marco's return to Britain, Australian immigration authorities sent an email saying David had outstayed his visa, even though he was dead.
As well as meeting with the MP and with the premier, Bulmer-Rizzi will attend parliament and hold a joint press conference with Weatherill on Saturday.
"The other reason I offered to come here is I feel overwhelmed by the number of people who helped me and supported me, people I did not know and people who were not part of the gay community," he told BuzzFeed News.
"There’s such an ongoing conversation about same-sex marriage in Australia that I want to be here and give them my voice. I've seen the debates and the arguments
against same-sex marriage and there were none of those negative connotations
to my marriage with David – it was extraordinarily positive and it allowed us to grow as two people. That is what is being denied to others. No harm comes from allowing two people to love each other."
Katrine Hildyard told ABC that it "means an incredible lot to have him there” and that while the Australian federal government is yet to introduce same-sex marriage, "steps taken to have things like relationships registers in place will mean that couples – same-sex couples and other couples – will be able to be afforded some rights".
Weatherill said: “This bill provides a mechanism for LGBTI couples to demonstrate their shared commitment and demonstrates a respect for the many diverse relationships in our community.”
The visit is the first time Bulmer-Rizzi has returned to Australia since his husband died suddenly, in a freak fall at the home of friends in Adelaide. Within 24 hours of the accident, Bulmer-Rizzi agreed for his husband's organs to be donated, giving life to three other people. As part of his trip he intends to return to the house where he found David dead.
"I will probably break down as soon as I arrive," he said, before paying tribute to Weatherill and the thousands of people who have contacted him following the tragedy. "I'm impressed with him and I will say that to him privately. I don't know why so many people listened and reached out to me but I know what my marriage gave to me. There is a freedom to being married, to being the next of kin. It allows you to love others."
Patrick Strudwick is a LGBT editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Patrick Strudwick at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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