Jan 11

Last night Michael and I along with Andrew, a friend, went out for dinner to a lovely Vietnamese restaurant in Fitzroy.

Michael dropped me off and drove off to find a car park.  Andrew was waiting on the street for me.  We greeted each other with a smile and a hello.  I would have like to have kissed him on the cheek.  A small gesture of friendship.  The right way for me to greet him.  But I didn’t.  Nor did I shake his hand, because that just felt too formal and business like.

We three sat at a table and after a time the table next to us was taken by 4 men, clearly a couple of couples out for a similar night of good food and company.

Here we are, a group of homosexual men surrounded by straight people.  All enjoying the company of our friends, eating, drinking, talking, laughing, looking.

handholdingI sit next to Michael because I like to be near to him.  I rarely touch him in public.  When I do there’s a risk analysis that my mind runs through before I reach out and place my hand on his knee or around his shoulder.  I’m looking around me to see potential threats.  Is that bearded bloke behind me with the tattoos of a skull on his elbow ok?  Will that mother over there try to shield her daughter from me?  Will the staff treat me differently?

Then I have to remind myself where I am.  I’m in funky Brunswick Street, Fitzroy.  It’s a pretty happening crowd with all sorts of people from all walks of life.  Surely they’re all gay friendly?  This won’t be an issue for anyone.

Only after that do I reach my arm out and place it around Michael’s shoulder.  Michael responds to my touch by either touching my hand or relaxing into my arm and moving closer to me.  It’s a natural, normal response.  A shared intimacy that I love.  Mind you, it only last a minute when I realise that he’s sitting to my right and my right shoulder aches too much for me to sustain it.  I wonder if I always sit with him to my right as an unthinking way of protecting my perceptions of threats.

Nothing happens, of course, apart from my shoulder aching.

When I walk down the street, I never simply slip my hand into to his.  Holding hands requires me to do another assessment of my surrounds.  I’ve had the looks of both support and scorn from others.  I’ve heard the phrase ‘faggot’ muttered when people pass me by.  That, quite frankly, scares the fuck out of me.

When Michael visits me at work we always kiss each other on the cheek.  What I really want is to be able to do that without thinking about it.  The same way I don’t give a second thought to that goodbye kiss in the morning, or the hello kiss at the end of the day in the safety of our own home.  I work in a wonderful diverse environment, and nobody raises an eyebrow about my sexuality.  Yet, I still do a scan of where we are before and after a kiss.

Why don’t I feel safe in my own country?

The ongoing threat to safety is there for me.  Real or perceived it doesn’t matter.  Years of growing up in a world where gay people have been derided and despised takes it toll.  Reports of gay bashing, discrimination and verbal abuse are presented to me on a daily basis.

I want to walk down the street and hold his hand.

I want to put my arm around him.

More than anything, I want him to sit to my left.

Take 20 minutes now and watch Panti speak at TED in Dublin.

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Oct 22

We all have impact on the people around us in many ways.  My recent television experience with Michael has had a number of people comment that they couldn’t do what we did.

Influence is important when you have a passion and a drive to make changes.  I have a passion to see all people in our society treated equally, in particular the GLBTI community and women.  It seems so odd to me that a large section of our society has to struggle for recognition and equality.

The Financial Review and Westpac have been running a recognition program to identify 100 women of influence for the last 3 years.

Their website says that they are wanting to increase the visibility of women’s leadership in Australia.  What a stark contrast of how valued Australian women are when we consider that only one woman is in the Federal Cabinet.  Where are the voices of the other half of our population?

There’s 100 of them being recognised today.  One of them is Jo Cavanagh.  In male speak, she’s my boss.  That’s right.  I work for a woman.  I would not refer to Jo as my boss.  I would say, this is Jo, she is the CEO at Family Life and we work together.  If pushed further, yes, I do report to her and we have many robust conversations, we have a good working relationship that is honest and trusting.

Let me now talk about why I admire Jo Cavanagh, OAM – CEO.

2014-Jo-CavanaghJo is without a doubt a simply amazing person.  Through her own family life and history she has a passion for fixing the injustices in the world.

Her life is dedicated to her own family – and they are equally amazing, and to her work.

She heads up an organisation of 530 people, made up of volunteers and employees.  Her passion for the well-being of children, women and families, the most vulnerable in our society is foremost in her mind.  Our mission at Family Life is through effective services, support and connections, enable children, young people and families to thrive in caring communities.

Without a doubt that is what we strive to accomplish.  It’s not easy, however, Jo is up for the challenge.

I’ve heard her speak on many occasions.  Her passion is right there.  From the moment she starts to tell the story it’s clear that she knows what she’s talking about, she knows what is required and she knows how you can help.

When Jo engages with the staff of the Agency I know that she is trying to get the best out of us to reach our mission.

When Jo advocates for our clients, our community, to our Government she does it with that same drive.

Jo is always open to learning new things, she keeps up with the latest research, she understands the nature of people’s lives and uses her skills to try and make the world a better place.

I’ve worked with Jo for over 15 years now.  I’ve been a part of the growth here at Family Life.  When I started we had about 20 staff and 1 office.  We are now 130 staff and 13 sites.  The budget has likewise grown.

This doesn’t happen through anything but hard work.  For that to happen you need someone who can drive the program forward.  You need someone with passion, love and concern for those around them.  You need someone who is forward thinking, can see what has happened in the past and what should happen in the future.

You need a clear vision, a clear mission and you need to be influential.

Jo Cavanagh is one of Australia’s Women of Influence.

She has been recoginsed with an Order of Australia Medal and now as the 2014 Woman of Influence in the Social Enterprise and Not-for-profit category.

It is fantastic to work with such a dynamic person and a true inspiration.

Congratulations Jo.

Long may you influence.  Long may you be inspirational! The world needs more people like you!

 

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Oct 18

My family has 11 children.  My mother gave birth to 5 sons and then a daughter.  I understand that there was much rejoicing when the first girl arrived.  It was said that she would be able to help my mum with all those boys and then look after my parents in their old age.

My sister was Helen, the 6th child.  She died before Mum and Dad and I don’t know how well she looked after my older brothers, and I’m not at all sure she looked after her younger siblings – as I remember rightly she introduced me to smoking and was once told by Sister Jean that girls that wear jeans have abortions.  (It was the 70’s!)  When we were young we fought with each other on a regular basis!

When going through some of Mum and Dad’s things, I came across a folder of letters to Mum when Helen was born.  This first letter is from my grand parents, Dad’s parents.  This is written in 1960.

Handwritten by Nell Storer - June 1960

Handwritten by Nell Storer – June 1960

Dear Ev,

Well what a lovely surprise for us all with your dear little daughter we hoped and prayed you would be blest with a little girl so now we are happy.

I’m sure you can hardly believe its true, you would be surprised how many people enjoy our happiness too, and a lot are outsiders.

Dad & I are going to try and see you Wednesday night, if they will allow us in, & isn’t Pat thrilled to think baby arrived on her birthday & wasn’t she pleased when Brian asked her to be God mother.

How do you feel Ev, well I hope, Brian says you are back to your old form, he is a happy man indeed they all say you both deserved your daughter.

Jeanette rang last night & she was so pleased when we told her, she says there is still hope for her. I must close Ev & hope to see you soon. Lots of love,

Mum & Dad & Pat xxx

for baby
XXX

Let me just help decipher the family tree here for you!

Dear Ev,

Mum’s name was Evelyn, she was called Eve, Ev and sometimes Evie.

I’m sure you can hardly believe its true, you would be surprised how many people enjoy our happiness too, and a lot are outsiders.

We have a very large family – I think outsiders refers to non-family members.

Dad & I are going to try and see you Wednesday night, if they will allow us in,

Uncle Graeme, Aunty Pat and Helen

Uncle Graeme, Aunty Pat and Helen

It was 1960 and not everyone got into the hospital to see patients!  I also like this quaint idea that she refers to my grandfather, Pop, as Dad.  I think that my Mum did call them Mum and Dad, but I don’t really recall.

& isn’t Pat thrilled to think baby arrived on her birthday & wasn’t she pleased when Brian asked her to be God mother.

Pat is my Aunty, Dad’s younger sister – I’m guessing she was still living at home with Nan and Pop.  Brian is my dad.  Helen was born on the June 18th, same date as Pat, something I’d forgotten about.  It must have been a thrill to be asked to be God Mother!

Jeanette rang last night & she was so pleased when we told her she says there is still hope for her.

Jeanette is my Aunty, Dad’s sister-in-law she also had a number of sons and no girls.  She did have one girl, maybe just after Helen was born.

I’m making my way through a small box of memories, there is a lot in there the provokes the thoughts of childhood and fond memories, and letters like this written before I was born, things that I knew nothing about.  I don’t know if Nan and Pop lived in Hamilton at the time, if they did, why did they write a letter?  Was it delivered to the hospital inside a card perhaps?  Did my dad take it to her?  Things we can only guess now.

Family stories.  Do your bit to ask those questions now.

 

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Oct 11

I love the spring!

The best place to smell the roses is Halls Gap in spring.  Well, smell the wildflowers at least.

Michael and I headed up to the Grampians for a weekend recently to do just that, smell the wildflowers and enjoy the great outdoors.  We left on a Friday night getting there late.

The first thing to strike me is the smell of the trees, then as you step out of the car the amazing array of stars spread across the sky above.

I think as I stop to soak it in how the First People who have lived here for over 10,000 years must have often looked up to the sky and looked in awe at the view.  The black outline of the ridges that gives way to the brilliance of the stars.  The First People called this place Gariwerd.

We started Saturday morning with a run from our motel out past Brambuk, the visitors centre, and back, just about 6 kilometres.  My normal run is several times around the local running track, so to be out in the brilliant sunlight in the cool of the morning surrounded by towering mountains, the smell of eucalypt and the odd mob of kangaroos is a real treat.

From the top of Mt William

From the top of Mt William looking towards Victoria Valley

After our breakfast our first stop is Mt William.  The mountain is the highest peak in the Grampians at 1,167 metres. The mountain reminds me of my youth.  Many times have I climbed to its peak and looked at the fantastic surrounds of the Western District and the Grampians ranges.  It’s pretty easy to get to the starting point for our walk.  You drive.  The fun starts after you get out of the car.  It’s just 2 kilometres to the top on a well paved road, however, it’s steep!

We wind our way up and around the zig-zag road.  The day is beautiful.  Bright sunlight, not too hot.  Just perfect for a slug up a mountain side.  The flora changes as we ascend.  From the tall eucalypts to the stunted bushes of the semi-alpine area.  There’s not much to stop the wind at the top as it whistles through the communications tower when we reach the summit.

It’s a hard slog, but well worth the effort.  We scramble around on the plateau exploring the rocks and taking in the view.   We head southwards towards the Major Mitchell Plateau, this is the one spot in the whole world that I want to return to.  It’s an incredible hike that takes you down the side of Mount William to the valley floor then the steep climb up the side of the MMP.  However, that’s an adventure for another day.  All I can do is look at it for now.

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The Major Mitchell Plateau from the top of Mt William

As we head back down the road to our car we pass a few people walking heading up – stopping to take plenty of photos, including a few of a 3 metre snake that winds its way across the road in front of us.

Once at the car we head on to Jimmy Creek to stop for a coffee, then onto Mafeking, home of the Grampians gold rush in the early 1900’s.  We take a stroll around the old town where once 10,000 people lived.  There’s nothing but bush here now, and a few mine shafts that have been covered up with wire mesh barriers to prevent you falling in.

Sunday morning dawns even brighter than the previous day.  Today is wildflower day.  It’s Halls Gap Annual Wild Flower Show, now into its 75th year.

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A tree with character – click on it to see the larger version

First stop is the Botanic Gardens.  I had no idea that Halls Gap had such a place.  We wander around the gardens and look a the display of wildflowers on show.  Mostly cut flowers put into old ice-cream tins.  A permit is required to pick flowers in the Grampians, so not something you’d wander around the bush doing for a lovely display on the mantlepiece at home.

There’s this fantastic tree in the gardens.  A survivor.  Be sure to click on the image to the right to see the larger size, note the ice cream tin at the foot of the tree.

We wander through the exhibition in the local hall, grab some lunch and then head southwards again to Lake Bellfield.

We stop here, as we often do at Dairy Creek, the spot never disappoints with the local corella  population taking up residence in the trees and making a fuss that only they can do.  There seems to be thousands of the things gathered in the tree-tops.  We stop for some photos.

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Corella’s at Lake Bellfield

As we drive out I’m scanning the sides of the road looking for wild flowers.  While it’s great to see the variety on display in an exhibition, what I really want to see is the real thing, flowers in the wild.

In my mind, looking at wild flowers means grasslands with huge stands of blossoms blowing merrily in the wind.  The reality is quite different.  The flowers here are tiny.  Small delicate blossoms close to the ground and scatter among the dead twigs, leaves and other tiny plants.

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Common Correa (Correa reflexa)

A flash of red and I stop the car.  We get out and wander a few metres into the bush.  There are the flowers, on the floor, barely 10 centimetres high with tiny flowers no larger than a 10¢ coin on the end of their slender stems.  There’s a few here and there and we carefully trod our way through the undergrowth taking great delight in finding the perfect specimen to photograph.

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Pink Fingers Orchid (Caladenia Carnea)

At one point I was crouched down looking at an exquisite orchid  and as I looked up at ground level my eyes were greeted with the wonderful array of flowers close by, a wonderful moment of connection for me with my husband, the ancient ground beneath my feet, the beauty of the orchid forest in front of me and the mountains as the back drop.  The warm sun, gentle breeze, the sounds of the corellas, currawongs,
kookaburras and the occasional magpie.

Another great weekend away in a place that I never tire of visiting.  It gives me a sense of mental renewal to be among such staggering beauty with the man I love and the bush I enjoy and admire.

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Native Daisy

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Oct 07

I’ve been in a very reflective mood today as I mull over the events of yesterday.

Two things happened.  Bob Katter appeared on Q&A and as expected more or less said that there are no gay people in his electorate.

Ivan Hinton-Teoh returned to his home town to confront the past.  He was a victim of homophobia in his small rural town.

Ivan is an online friend, we both have an interest in marriage equality, Ivan is the Deputy National Director of Australian Marriage Equality.  His story is powerful and emotional.  A story that needed to be told.  It made me think about my own small town experience.  It has awakened in me just how much I hated growing up.  I felt I was surrounded by bullies and vilified on a constant basis at home and at school.

The home stuff was a lot about being teased.  I was pretty good at teasing too and would wind my brothers and sisters up as much as they did me.  What we didn’t know at the time was that I was gay. The best way to niggle at me was to tell me I was a poof.  At one time my name was Gregory Elizabeth Storer. For a young lad trying to come to terms with his sexuality that sort of teasing had a lasting impact on me.  There was no intent from my siblings to cause any damage other than normal sibling rivalry.  I’m not trying to lay blame at all.  I want to highlight just how easy it is to damage the young mind and how long it can take to undo that damage.

School was just horrible.  From Grade Four I was labelled a poofter, well before I even knew what any of that meant.  I was often the victim of playground taunts and bullying.  That only escalated in Secondary School.  By the time I reached adulthood I was doing everything I could to appear heterosexual.  I lived a double life.  I had a boyfriend and we would sneak away as much as we could. I would pretend to be straight for my family, my work, the scouts and the church.

I knew how bad it was to be gay, how we spoke about gay people.  Religion, the community, my friends, they all despised homosexuals.

I suffered from my own personal homophobia.  I hated the gay in me.  I felt a cheat, a liar, dishonourable, fake and a freak.  My personal integrity is key to my sense of self-worth, so being fake and dishonourable weighed heavily on my mind.

At times I wanted to die.  Often.

I was well-regarded in my small town.  I was even made Young Citizen of the Year.  On the inside I would be arguing about how much I would be hated if only they knew that I was really a homo.

It took a long time, a lot of money, a shitload of personal reflection for me to work out that the public me and the inside me could be joined together.  I didn’t need two sides of me.

In fact, if you don’t mind me stroking my own ego, I am honourable, reliable, decent bloke.  And I am that because my key value is honesty.  Above all else I hold that to be significantly important to me.

I was devastated last night watching Q&A to witness the blatant disregard that Bob Katter has towards gay people.

As Josh Thomas was taking him to task Katter was unable to even look at him.  Here is Katter talking about the importance of mental health for farmers and he is completely unable to acknowledge that gay people exist and at times suffer great mental anguish, something that he has had a hand in creating.

It is his attitude and those of people like him that allows him and our society to marginalise and vilify people just like me.  It is people like him that I went to school with that picked on me and thought it was all in good fun.

It is people like him that even now cause me uncertainty.  Every day I have to deal with what I tell people.  Will they treat me differently if they know I’m gay?  Do I tell them?  What would the ramifications be?  I’m trying to do a job here and it shouldn’t be an issue.  Do I come out to that contractor?  How much of a friendship do I want with that supplier?  Is that a look of contempt from a colleague because I’m gay?

More and more now I simply don’t care, people can like it or lump it.  But a lifetime of checking oneself is hard to simply give up in 10 short years.  How much of it is in my head?  How much is real?

So that’s me.  I have resilience and support.  I have a great well of support, my husband, my children, my family, my friends, my work-mates.  Despite the odd bit of insecurity, I know who I am, I’m not afraid to tell you and will even take you to task at the drop of a hat.  But imagine being young, searching, unsure.  If you are gay and trying to understand yourself and how you fit into this society then last night’s program may have had a negative impact on you.

If you’re a Bob Katter then you need to watch what Ivan has to say.  You need to feel his raw emotions on display for the world to see.  You need to see his vulnerability.  Because Ivan is the young gay kid in every rural community struggling to make sense of himself in a world created for heterosexuals.

Thanks Ivan.

This is mental health week – take care of your mental health.  Be aware of other people’s mental health.

You never know where your homophobic attitudes will land.


If you need to talk to someone about mental health, please phone Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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Oct 01

I’m reliably informed that the AFL grand-final was held very recently.  Apparently somebody called Hawthorn won.  I’m delighted for them.

Clearly my interest in the footy is as close to 0 as possible.

After the game, a famous person, Rob Mills tweeted a photo of a two plastic Lego type toys, a Sydney player bent at the waist, while a Hawthorn player stands behind him, it’s meant to represent them engaged in a sexual activity.

I saw it and sort of laughed at it, juvenile humour and really not very funny.

Other people saw something else in it.  Calling Mills homophobic.

I don’t think he’s homophobic.  I think he got a bit carried away and didn’t think it through.

There’s such a wide-ranging debate going on about what he did and how we respond.  As with any conversation about behaviour, the community, that’s all of us, need to work out what our standards are and have a frank and open conversation about it.

I’m inclined to think that there is an undertone to the image that needs further exploring to understand its meaning.

The use of the toys really represents the victorious team humiliating the vanquished.  This is represented in a sexual manner.  That is a representation of power over the weak. Domination through sex.  It is implied that this is not a consensual act.

And there is the problem.  While this was probably the furthest thing from Mills mind, he has essentially made a rape reference.

The homophobic slur comes into play because that ‘power’ is demonstrated through a forced homosexual act.

I sort of resent that.  The implication that sex is a way to ‘celebrate’ the win by forcing the loser into a ‘detestable’ sexual act as a further way to obtain dominance and gratification.

Mills has done the right thing, he deleted the tweet and he has apologised.  A decent apology with meaning and understanding. He knows he made a mistake.

I certainly don’t feel vilified.  I’m not upset.  But rape is not a laughing matter. No matter what the joke is.

Sex is fun, I know, I’ve tried it a few times.  Everyone has a different standard when it comes to behaviour, jokes and ethics.  But what do we as a community think the standard should be?  Where is that line between humour and offence?  That’s the topic of conversation, not whether we can hound somebody who made a mistake.  The error has been pointed out and make good has been done.

Let’s keep the conversation going, this representation of domination through sex is important as we deal with family violence, rape and the victimisation of women.

We owe it to all of us to stand up for a good decent human standard that means all people are respected and treated with respect.  We owe it to those that are in abusive situations and victims of violence to say that it’s unacceptable.

We need to be decent human beings.

 

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Sep 22

For seven days, our niece Abbey sent letters to the Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, requesting that he change the law on marriage to allow Michael and me to get married to each other.

Here are her letters:

Today she received a response! She called me straight away to tell me that she had some good news and some sad news.

The good news was the PM had written back to her, the sad news was that he wasn’t going to change anything.

We talked about the sad news and I said that I didn’t think it was all that sad.  We already knew that he probably wouldn’t change his mind, but I encouraged Abbey to think about the impact she’s had.  Her friends are talking about it, she managed to reach hundreds of people by writing her letters and then some other people also wrote letters. It was good for her to hear about the influence that her efforts had, and we talked about how important it is that people just like her let people just like Abbott know what she’s thinking.  It’s how we bring about change.

Here’s what Tony Abbott wrote:

Dear Abbey,

Thank you for letting me know your views on same sex marriage.

I appreciate you letting me know about your own family. In my family, I have a sister with a female partner.  My sister’s partner is a loved member of our family.

While I respect your views on same sex marriage, I hold a different view.

My personal position is to support the existing definition of marriage.

The Government supports the current definition of marriage contained in the Marriage Act. Any change to this policy would be a matter for the Coalition Party Room.

Thank you again for writing to me.  I wish you well in the future.

Yours sincerely

TONY ABBOTT

Abbey Gets A Reply

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Sep 17

I came across this video on Facebook recently, have a look, it’s only 40 seconds.

The thing has had over 300,000 shares!  That’s pretty impressive.  The christians who are impressed with the concept are falling over themselves with excitement.

The video is instructive, primarily for Sunday School teachers.  Can you imagine showing this to children?  You are clean and pure, then sin comes along, uninvited and pours itself all over you.  The only way to get clean is to have christ in your life.

That is really a horrible message.

I made my own version, with a science label instead of sin.  Have a look – it’s only 23 seconds, it’s not as convoluted as religion and gets to the point much quicker.

It’s had about 50,000 shares on Facebook so far.  Still got a way to go!

I’ve had more negative feedback on my short 23 second video than I have on my 50 minutes on television!  I can feel the christian love.

People feel entitled to message me to tell me about their god.  I don’t mind that.  I don’t feel obliged to engage with them in any deep conversation.  I’m polite and respectful to them, but quite adamant about where I stand on religion.  Here’s a couple of my favourite conversations:

 

Screenshot from 2014-09-17 17:53:12

This one with Matt starts out by him asking me if I have read the bible, I tell him I have:Screenshot from 2014-09-17 18:13:07

 

If you want to read the full transcript then here is Jennepher Petitt  and Matt Sidney.

This conversation was of particular fun:

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Here’s the full story: Δημήτριος Δεσποτικός

Just in case you want to make your own science experiment, it the Science jar I’ve put water and a dash of bleach.  The christ jar has water and enough iodine to make it reddish/brown.  The You cup is only water.

Just remember, it’s a little bit of chemical reaction, nothing more.  You don’t have to put labels on them!

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Sep 07

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Sep 05

vows

January 30, 2014
Stoneridge Estate
Queenstown, New Zealand

I ask everyone here today to witness that I Gregory Paul Storer choose you Michael Nathan Barnett to be my legal husband.

Michael, when we started our relationship, my online profile said that I understood my place in the Universe and that I was looking for the right person to share it with.  I said that mental voids need not apply.

You have been able to challenge me, reason with me and help me grow into a different man.  I have changed.  I am now a wonderfully happy person, in love with a wonderfully happy person.  You are no mental void but a man brimming with integrity, honesty, openness and love.

Michael today we face each other, I get to look into your beautiful eyes, watch your wonderful face and tell you why I’m here.

You know that I love you.  You know that despite all the wrongs in our world, all the things outside our control and all the things that we control that I willingly look at you and say you are the one that I want to be with.  You are the one that I choose to spend my time with.

I smile when I see you.  I look for you when you’re not here.  I revel in sharing the outdoors with you.  I delight in our conversations about the world.

We walk through the bush and climb to the top of mountains and look in awe.  These are times together that make my heart go zing.  You make my heart go zing.  It’s doing it right now.

So, today, with my heart going zing, I have surrounded myself with love.  I have taken the most important people in my life and brought them here.  I want the love that surrounds me, the love of my closest brother and sister, the love of my wonderful children, the love of my best friends, I want this love to surround me and I want it to surround you.

You too have brought to this place those you love, you have surrounded yourself with love.

There is here today over 200 years of marriage between our friends.  We are engulfed by love.

I stand before everyone here to say to you that I love you.

I love your passion for others.

I love your sense of justice.

I love your thoroughness.

I love your humour.

I love your integrity.

I want you to be my husband.

I want to share all of my life with you.

I want to explore the world with you at my side.

I want to discover the universe with you.

I choose you to be my husband.

 


You can read the vows Michael said to me here

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