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Elderly gay couple in Australia lobby for the right to marry before their death


John and his life partner Arthur Pic courtesy of John Challis

A blissfully happy couple from Sydney, Australia have one wish - to legally marry each other while they are still alive.

Octogenarians John Challis (87) and Arthur Cheeseman (83) met and fell for each other over four decades ago, in 1967.

"We met at the Art Gallery of New South Wales on the 27th October, 1967," Challis said, recounting the magical evening like it was only days ago.

"It was a Sunday night, and Arthur and I just happened to be walking out of the art gallery together.

"We were standing near each other in the foyer and I just turned around and smiled at him and he smiled back at me."

The rest as they say is history, as the couple met for coffee, found that they had shared interests, and continued to meet regularly.

As their relationship grew, they never faced prejudice from those around them.

"Everybody just accepted us as we were," Challis said.

He worked as head of science at the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, while Cheeseman worked as a pharmacist.

Things began to change, Challis explained, when he retired and realised Cheeseman wasn't eligible to receive his Commonwealth pension if he passed away, due to the fact the couple weren't in a civil union.

He began campaigning the Howard Government for same-sex relationships to be recognised as a de facto partnership and to remove financial discrimination against gay couples.

This eventually happened in 2009, following a 2007 Australian High Commission report that highlighted discrimination issues faced by couples in Australia.

The latest hope for Challis came with the passing of the Irish same-sex marriage referendum earlier this year, which illustrated that religion could once-and-for-all be put aside for equality.

"The Irish people were prepared to follow their own instincts, and their own conscience, and overwhelming voted for same-sex marriage in Ireland. If they have got it, we have to get it," he said.

At present it seems either a referendum or plebiscite will decide whether same-sex marriage will be legal in Australia.

"The best chance now is that we have a plebiscite.

"I hope we will do what the Irish did, and vote overwhelmingly in favour of it," Challis said.

"But I would hope it won't be a bitter, disputed thing. It has the potential to bring the worst out in people. There is still a lot of blatant homophobia just under the surface in Australia."

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