Julia Wheatley can now legally refer to Emily Wheatley as her wife.
The couple, who live in Melbourne, were the first to have their civil union converted to a marriage at the Timaru courthouse last week. They are in Timaru for Christmas, visiting Julia's family.
"On [December 23] we went to the courthouse and the man at the counter said it was the first one they had done. He spent about 15 minutes fossicking around trying to find the right words and eventually downloaded them from the internet, so we filled out the form and paid $173 and then were taken into a tiny room where we were married with five witnesses," Julia said.
"He said: ‘do you take Emily to be your wife?' and that was nice. It feels really good [to call her my wife]."
Friends in Melbourne were envious that they could get married, she said. In Australia, same-sex marriages were legal for four days in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) but that was overruled by the High Court. Civil unions are not legal for same-sex couples either.
"A lot of our friends are waiting for the law to change but that could be quite a long time. Some of our friends have had a formal celebration of their relationship but it is sort of left hanging at the end."
Julia, 33, grew up in Timaru and met Emily, 29, when they were working at ANZ, Julia as a corporate credit assessment manager and Emily a financial planner. They were engaged in San Francisco in July 2009.
Emily already referred to Julia as her wife, she said.
"Our civil union in front of family and friends was what I consider the wedding. Julia really wanted to have the union legally recognised as a marriage. It is easier to explain. I've always called Julia my wife.
"When Australia finally comes on board, I would like us to be married there as well and have it recognised there, too."
The couple's civil union took place at Opihi Vineyard on February 24, 2011. Julia had been in the Christchurch CBD carrying out the final fitting for her dress when the fatal earthquake struck on Tuesday, February 22.
With her mother she made her way back to Timaru and had to leave her wedding dress trapped in the CBD. Thankfully, she was able to find an alternative dress and the civil union went ahead as planned.
- The Timaru Herald