Equal marriage came to Australia just in time for this terminally-ill woman to get her final wish
A terminally-ill woman in Australia with just weeks to live has tied the knot with her same-sex partner.
Australia signed into law its equal marriage law earlier this month after the public gave their overwhelming backing to the measure in a postal vote.
Because the country has a month-long notice period for couples waiting to marry, the first wave of same-sex unions will not be able to begin until January 9 – one month from the date of the law coming into effect.
However, a number of weddings have gone ahead early after exemptions were made for couples with special circumstances.
Cas Willow, 53, became one of the first in the country to wed today, when she tied the knot to her partner of 17 years Heather Richards, 56.
After cancer spread to her brain, Cas has just weeks to live – and the law came just in time for the couple to finally be granted the same recognition as any straight couple.
The pair married today in a small ceremony at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where Cas is receiving care.
The wheelchair-bound cancer patient wore her finest dress for the occasion, in a ceremony that staff at the hospital gave up their own time to help organise.
She was wheeled down the aisle to John Legend’s All of Me.
In lieu of wedding gifts, the pair have asked for donations to the Cancer Centre, which accepts online contributions from across the world.
The Premier of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, who attended the ceremony and met with the couple, made a $50,000 donation from the state on their behalf, while fundraisers online have raised thousands more in their name.
Mr Andrews also pulled some strings to make sure the couple won’t have to wait to gtr their official wedding certificate – which was “hand-delivered” the same day.
The new Mrs Willow said she was happy that the change in law came in time for her to wed.
She said: “Just because time is not on our side, it’s just a dream come true.
“I can’t believe it’s real and it was something I thought I would never see.”
— Nine News Melbourne (@9NewsMelb) December 18, 2017
Mrs Richards added: “She has always been there for me, she’s been my partner in life, my confidante, my soul mate, my everything,”
“To now be able to carry on afterward and say she was my wife and not just my partner, it adds sort of completion to a relationship.”
Mr Andrews said: “This afternoon, I watched on as Cas and Heather held each other’s hands and became one of the first same-sex couples to be legally married in Australia.
“The ceremony was sad and beautiful in equal measure – because Cas has cancer, and it has spread to her brain. The pair have been together 17 years. Their love has always been real.
“But now, it is law. And now, for rest of her life, Cas will be able to call Heather her wife. This is what equality looks like.”
He added: “Earlier, we asked the Registrar to do whatever they can so that Cas and Heather get their official wedding certificate in time.
“I’m informed that their certificate will be hand-delivered tonight. It’s the first same-sex marriage certificate printed in Victoria.
“Thank you so much, Cas and Heather, for inviting me today.
“Your wedding was a moving reminder of all those who could get their love and commitment legally recognised in time – and all those who couldn’t.”
The pair had previously pleaded with officials to make an exception to the mandatory notice period.
Cas told The Age: “I don’t even know if I’ll make it to Christmas, let alone 9 January, so they allowed us to get married early.”
“Loving someone is the easiest thing to do… looking after the relationship, that’s the thing that takes time and consideration.”
The pair said the wedding will make their last days together feel “complete”.
Heather added: “We are committed to each other, we didn’t need to do a commitment ceremony to prove it. We wanted to do a wedding because it’s equal, it’s legal.
“It means our relationship won’t just be tolerated, it will be accepted.”
The hospital explained: “Cas and Heather say they do not need any kettles or toasters, so they have asked us to set up a donation page in replacement of any gift purchase that may have been considered.”
Of Cas’ diagnosis, the pair explained: “We recall seeing the opening of the new hospital was about to happen on the late night news.
“Heather recalls thinking, ‘Beautiful place, hope I never have to see inside it’.
“Within a week Cas had been diagnosed with aggressive Breast Cancer, which after testing revealed she was a carrier of the BRCA gene.
“Cas went through the entire recommended treatment… [but] early in September we noticed Cas was extremely exhausted.
We put this down to fatigue, but sadly in October, Cas was diagnosed with metastasis in her beautiful brain.
“Our journey through Cas’ disease has been at Peter Mac. And the team and the facility is truly world class and simply amazing. In our opinion, second to none.
“We have found the Peter Mac staff to be friendly, warm and more importantly accepting of us and our committed relationship to one another, creating a safe and secure environment for us.
“We have found a lot of comfort in the warm and friendly Wellness Centre and for this reason, we wish to give back.
“So that those who unfortunately, will have to follow Cas on their journey, that they too may also continue to benefit from this wonderful facility.”
Hospital chief exec Dale Fisher added: “We are thrilled to support the celebration of Cas and Heather’s marriage, and we are committed to providing a compassionate and supportive environment for all patients and staff of Peter Mac.”
A number of other couples have also tied the knot early.
Lauren Price, 31 and Amy Laker, 29, became one of the first couples in the country to marry when they tied the knot in New South Wales on Saturday afternoon.
The pair have been waiting for more than two years to marry.
They were given an exemption from the notice period because Ms Price’s family, who live in the UK, would only be able to attend if the wedding took place immediately.
The exemption was granted on financial grounds, citing the travel of close relatives.
Ms Laker told Daily Mail Australia that she was overjoyed to be given permission to marry early.
She said: “We went in there and made our case, the officials left the room to make their decision.
“It was the longest ten minutes of our lives – our hands were so sweaty. When she came back in and said she had good news I just started crying.”
Before Australia’s equal marriage law was passed, the couple had already made plans to get married at the British Consulate under UK law.
After the postal vote, they decided to marry under Australian law instead.
Ms Laker said: “We have been engaged for two years and we have been planning this for a long time, it wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment wedding.”
“It is a small wedding, we have 65 guests coming – a lot of people are coming from interstate.”
The pair got engaged two years ago on top of the Eiffel Tower.
Another couple, Stephanie Dyball and Megan Stapleton, 30 and 32, will also marry this week after they were also granted an exemption.
The pair had booked their December 21 wedding more than a year ago.
The wedding was originally going to be cermeonial and not legally-recognised, but after the country passed the equal marriage law, they too appealed to clerks for an exemption.
Ms Stapleton told ABC: “We got engaged in 2012 — so quite a while ago.
“We waited and waited and we got a bit tired of waiting and thought, we’re not going to wait around any more for them to change the law, let’s just have a wedding!
“We started planning towards the end of last year because family were coming from overseas and interstate and we wanted to give them plenty of notice.
“We took the evidence that my family had booked their flight from overseas back in about January-February, and we filled out all the forms and then they did say ‘you know don’t get your hopes up’.
“To be honest our hopes weren’t too high. But we were quite thrilled when they put it through.”
She added: “The day was always going to be special regardless, you know it’s the two of us and we’re just really excited to be able to say those words that mean something in front of our family and friends.”
“Everything’s happened so quickly. We just thought it wouldn’t happen this fast even once the law was passed. We just didn’t want to think about it being possible for us because we didn’t want to be disappointed.”