9 Jan 2018

Today, on the first official day of marriage equality ceremonies, I attended the funeral of Cas Willow, whose wedding I was privileged to facilitate as one of the first same sex marriages in Australia just 3 weeks ago.

Cas Willow was a palliative care patient being treated at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre. She was in a race against time for the marriage equality law to pass, so she could marry her partner of 17 years Heather Richards, in the final days of her life.

The Peter Mac team, upon hearing their story sought to fast track their wedding through an exemption, allowing them to marry early; and Peter Mac hosted their wedding at the hospital.

Myself, Amber Brodecky, Executive Director Strategic Communications; Geraldine McDonald, Director of Wellbeing; and a dedicated team working against the clock, organised the entire wedding by approaching people to donate their time or services.

Not. A. Single. Person. Turned. Us. Down.

From rainbow balloons, wedding cake and lit up LOVE signs, to rings, wedding outfits, catering, photography, videography, sunflowers, music and make up, our community pulled together to make their day truly special.

The Premier of Victoria, the Minister for Equality, and the Minister for Health, all attended the intimate wedding of 60 people, with the Victorian Government making a surprise donation of $50,000 on the day, to the fund the couple requested be used for wedding gifts – the Peter Mac Foundation. This was thanks largely in part to the role played by Adviser to the Minister for Equality, Holly Cooper.

The Executive Director of the Foundation, Jennifer Doubell, who is also a wedding celebrant officiated their marriage in the Wellbeing Centre of the hospital. Peter Mac’s Chief Executive Dale Fisher, and Board Chair Maxine Morand, who both strongly supported the LGBTI community at Peter Mac during the public vote, also joined the celebration.

Once the couple were married, their official certificate was express processed and hand delivered back to them within hours, in person at night, by the Registrar of Births Deaths and Marriages, James Lawson. It was the first same sex marriage certificate to be issued in Victoria.

Today, as I stood in a chapel in Williamstown listening to the story of Cas’s life and just how much it meant for her and Heather to be officially recognised as a married couple before she died, I was truly touched not only by their love story, but by the power this legislation has to change people’s lives for the better, and what a lasting difference it can make to genuine happiness in our community.

Currently, my team estimates Cas and Heather’s story reached 10 million people in more than 7 countries worldwide. Cas, as a person who spent her profession teaching others, and as an advocate for equality and human empowerment, left a magnificent legacy to millions of people in her final days of life.

Whilst I only knew Cas for a short time, I’ll always remember her and the truly remarkable impact she left on the world. My thoughts and wishes are with her family; and her wife, Heather Richards.

 

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