Newcastle same-sex couples searching for love on equal terms

REMARKABLE: Tracy Baker and Rosie Holmes were married in Queenstown, New Zealand in September because didn't want to wait for Australian laws to change.
REMARKABLE: Tracy Baker and Rosie Holmes were married in Queenstown, New Zealand in September because didn't want to wait for Australian laws to change.

IT'S the issue that's divided the country more than most in recent memory.

It’s split some families and friends and has been debated endlessly throughout the media and at backyard barbecues.

Should Australia afford same-sex couples with the right to get married?

It’s a question that has threatened to drag the Coalition Government into all-out ideological war and critics claim has become a policy albatross around the neck of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

Since mid-September 12.3 million or 77 per cent of eligible Australian voters have cast their opinion on the issue in the Federal Government’s controversial $122 million postal survey.

Voting closes on November 7 and the results will be announced on November 15.

Polling suggests that the “Yes” campaign enjoys a 60 per cent majority, but when and whether that results in Parliament passing legislation enabling same-sex marriage is unclear.

Weekender spoke to three Newcastle same-sex couples who believe a Yes result would finally deliver the equality they have craved for.  

FREQUENT FLYERS

EQUAL RIGHTS: Gay couple Cameron Thompson and Chris Schofield would love the option to get married if they choose. Picture: Marina Neil

EQUAL RIGHTS: Gay couple Cameron Thompson and Chris Schofield would love the option to get married if they choose. Picture: Marina Neil

Hamilton’s Chris Schofield, 34, and Cameron Thompson, 37, are one of those globe-trotting couples we’re all envious of.

Their social media accounts are filled with endless pictures of them sipping beers in Sweden, checking out castles in Prague or trekking around stunning waterfalls and lakes in Iceland.

Together the pair have visited 23 countries - eight just this year - ranging from Europe, the Middle East and South East Asia.

It’s meant the renovations to their house in Georgetown have been on the back-burner, forcing the pair to bunk down with Thompson’s parents in Hamilton while they plan the monumental task of ripping out a kitchen and bathroom.

Several times while travelling overseas friends have suggested that Schofield and Thompson tie the knot, given the majority of western European countries have legalised same-sex marriage. 

“It’s more been a joke because we can’t,” Thompson says. “Every country we’ve been to in Europe it’s an option there.”

If same-sex marriage is legalised in Australia Schofield is unsure whether the pair would say their vows. For him, receiving the same rights as heterosexual couples is the issue.

“It would be nice to have the option,” Schofield says. “We’ve spoken about it. Neither of us are religious, so it wouldn’t be a church ceremony for us.”

The pair met seven years ago through mutual friends when Schofield was still “in the closet.”

Thompson was born and raised in Newcastle and felt comfortable coming out as gay at 21. Schofield grew up in the north-west country town of Gunnedah and only after moving to Newcastle permanently at 27 to work as a chef at Nagisa Japanese restaurant did he feel prepared to reveal his sexuality to family and friends.

Schofield’s reluctance proved futile. However, he admits to being constantly aware they aren’t like regular couples.

It would be nice to have the option.

Chris Schofield

“I’m not comfortable with public displays of affection anyway,” he says. “We don’t walk down the street holding hands or make out in the park because I just don’t think we’re at a point in society yet where that’s OK.

“I was raised that’s something you don’t do as a straight couple, let alone a gay couple. My general experience has been overwhelmingly positive.”

However, for the first time in their relationship Schofield and Thompson have began to feel elements of prejudice raised by the same-sex marriage debate. Social media has been a constant battlefield.

“It’s weird that this should be something that’s positive and we should be looking forward to it, but it’s kind of a worse-before-it-gets-better scenario,” Schofield says. 

“It’s brought up a heap of shit, before everyone is OK with it all. You go on social media and, oh, not everyone does like us. It’s a bit depressing.

“It’s probably a good thing because it’s getting it all out on the table and everyone gets to throw their shit from both sides and ride it out.”

HAPPY FAMILIES

BLISS: Erin and Renee Harris held a civil ceremony at the Crowne Plaza five years ago but hope to make their marriage legally-binding.

BLISS: Erin and Renee Harris held a civil ceremony at the Crowne Plaza five years ago but hope to make their marriage legally-binding.

Last week Renee, 34, and Erin Harris (nee Young), 31, celebrated the five-year anniversary of when they made the ultimate commitment to one another.

The Hamilton East couple looked radiant in white wedding dresses as they celebrated their union in a civil ceremony at the Crowne Plaza at Honeysuckle.

They don’t need a postal survey or legislative change to the marriage act to legitimise their relationship. 

That’s been achieved through the highs and lows of a 10-year journey together that’s built a tight-knit family, which includes Lachie, 15, and Mia, 13 - Renee’s children from a previous relationship – and their three-year-old son Nixon.

For the Harris family, a legally-binding marriage would simplify their relationship for administrative purposes.

“I’m hoping if it’s legalised then it would lead to a birth certificate or passport application saying parent one and parent two,” says Erin.

“All my details had to go in the father section on Nixon’s passport application. One person told me to put my details there and another said no that’s got to be the father.

“I think if this came in, it would segue into fixing all that drama in basic things like getting a passport for your child.”

The Forster-raised Erin “came out” when she moved to Newcastle and met Renee and says she’s never faced public homophobia.

That’s why Erin has been shocked by a “emotionally-draining” and “horrible” same-sex marriage survey.

ALL SMILES: Renee and Erin Harris with their 3-year-old son Nixon.

ALL SMILES: Renee and Erin Harris with their 3-year-old son Nixon.

“It’s been really confronting that there’s so many people [against same-sex marriage], and it was like they were scared to voice this opinion and that they’re really homophobic and it’s given them this platform to just say what they want,” she says, with tears in her eyes.

However, among their families, Erin and Renee have always enjoyed support from the moment they announced their relationship. They had previously told their families they were just friends.

“Me and my brother are really close,” Erin says. “He was like 11 and I said to Mum ‘you’re gonna have to tell him because I can’t do this,’ because he’d met Renee.

“So Mum said to him ‘you know Renee, that’s actually Erin’s girlfriend, they’re a couple like Dad and me.’ And he’s like ‘OK, can I watch the soccer now?’

“Then he was like, ‘wait does that mean I’m a uncle now?’

FIELD OF DREAMS

STUNNING: Rosie Holmes and Tracy Baker chose to marry in Queenstown as they visited New Zealand early in their relationship.

STUNNING: Rosie Holmes and Tracy Baker chose to marry in Queenstown as they visited New Zealand early in their relationship.

The first time Rosie Holmes laid eyes on her future wife Tracy Baker she was zooming past her on a Merewether soccer field.

“I ran past Rosie and she actually said, ‘I don’t run that fast after crooks’ and I actually left the ball and ran back and said ‘you must be in the job’,” Baker recalls.

The job was the police force. From there the two policewomen bonded over work and soccer and eventually became a couple while on a Defense Force football tour to New Zealand.

It was only fitting that on September 11 they returned to the South Island tourist mecca of Queenstown for their secret wedding in the shadow of the snow-capped Remarkables mountains.

New Zealand legalised same-sex marriage in 2013.

“I always wanted to wait until Australia allowed it, but our parents aren’t getting any younger, and we’re not getting any younger, so we didn’t want to wait any longer,” Baker says.

Two weeks later Baker, 38, and Holmes, 34, held a surprise wedding reception back home at what was supposed to be their engagement party.

However, the Warners Bay couple would love to make their union official.

“We would definitely renew our vows in Australia, so more of our family could actually be present,” Holmes says. “Being overseas we could only take our immediate family with us as it’s always an expensive task taking the whole family.”

Just as Baker and Holmes’ love was sparked on the soccer pitch, it’s matured on the AFL field. Baker is a former under 16s and 19s Australian soccer representative and was a Matildas squad member.

Following an anterior cruciate ligament reconstruction last year on her right knee, Baker spent this season coaching the Warners Bay Bulldogs women’s AFL side, in which Holmes is a member.

Baker has been medically cleared to resume sport and vows to return to both AFL and soccer next season.

“I feel 21, even with a knee reco,” she says.

Baker and Holmes are displaying a similar steely resolve towards the same-sex marriage debate. They know people staunchly supporting either side of the argument, but aren’t taking the view of detractors personally.

“We’re both of the opinion that everyone is entitled to their opinion, regardless if it’s yes or no,” Baker says.

“We’re not going to judge anyone. We don’t judge people if they vote Labor or Liberal when it comes to an election.

“Australia is known for it’s role in free speech and it is what it is and we can’t change people’s minds if they’ve had a strong opinion from the day dot.”