Love in the clouds
A workplace romance blossomed into love for lesbian couple Lynley Bendall and Ally Wanikau, who took to the air today to be amongst the first same-sex couples to marry in New Zealand.
The winners of Air New Zealand’s Love is in the Air competition, Wanikau and Bendall exchanged their vows at 30,000 ft aboard a special flight from Queenstown to Auckland.
The lesbian couple met 14 years ago when they were both working at a child-care centre and developed an instant connection. They described their initial relationship as “good friends” but it wasn't too long before love blossomed. It was four months into the friendship when cupid’s arrow struck and the pair have been inseparable ever since, sharing not only their love for each other but with a family of three beautiful children.
The pair whom friends describe as notoriously “private” laughingly proclaimed the impetus to enter the Air New Zealand competition as “a moment of madness”.
“We saw it advertised and it looked really cool and we didn't even think about winning. We thought a video would be a fun thing to do with the kids,” explained Lynley.
Winning the competition has dropped the whole family into the spotlight – with the massive media attention seeing one news reporter describe the event as akin to a royal wedding.
While Bendall says the decision to make their relationship so public may have been a big one, especially as the children were involved, she explains she and Ally have always been out in their community. One of the children’s teachers was even at the wedding.
“We really wanted the whole family involved, that’s why we included the kids in the ceremony. It’s as much about our love for them as for each other.”
Today’s ceremony was not the first time the couple had proclaimed their love.
“We first exchanged rings before our commitment ceremony 12 years ago” says Bendall.
The couple then reaffirmed their vows in 2009. It took New Zealand’s historic change to the marriage act to get the pair walking down the aisle for a third time on August 19. Not that either one of them needed much convincing to take the final leap into solemnising their vows.
“I was planning on proposing – but then the night before the Bill passed, Ally said ‘I ‘spose we ought to get married now then…’ So my proposal thing went out the window,” laughs Bendall.
“We were going out to Caluzzi – a drag cabaret in town – for the reading of the bill,” she explains, “so I’d planned on proposing there when they announced the Bill but Ally’s suggestion put an end to that plan.”
“It was probably a good thing, says Wanikau. “The place was so packed if she’d got down on the floor she never would have got back up again.”
With two civil unions behind them, the pair says their marriage this time was about equality. “We’re no different to anyone else – so why should we be treated differently?” asks Bendall.
“There’s probably a lot of gay people out there that choose not to,” says Wanikau, “but for us it was – well we can now, so we will.”
Many of the couple’s friends and family were present for the marriage in the sky.
“A lot of them were there for our civil union – so they’re thrilled for us that we are now equal to them,” says Bendall.
“Being able to make the choice to marry who you love and not have people tell you that you can’t, is a basic human right – so it means so much to be able to marry.”
Rather than exchange wedding bands the pair exchanged pounamu (a traditional green stone) pendants. The design the couple chose was a twist, which Linley said means “unity, friendship and eternity”.
“It symbolised the joining together of us and our family, which is why we shared it with the children as well.”
Present to watch the wedding was US actor and Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson who commented he was honoured to be witnessing such an historic day for both New Zealand and the couple. A newlywed himself he joked that the pair had plenty of great times to look forward to.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure to be able to celebrate this historic and joyous moment with Lynley and Ally," said Ferguson.
"Marriage equality is something very dear to both Justin and me."
For Air New Zealand’s Jodi Williams, the occasion was an opportunity to deliver not only a momentous day for the couple but celebrate the touchstones of the brand.
“Air New Zealand really embraces diversity and I would say Air New Zealand is a very warm and welcoming brand so I’m extremely happy we could share such a wonderful day with them. We went through everything to make sure this day was really special and included all the moments that would make sure they and their children had a very special day.”
Watch highlights from Ally and Linley's special day ...